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Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

Milwaukee’s Rising Talent

Classical music’s future

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Classical music lovers are an anxious bunch, worrying that our music will die with us, that future generations may not come to know Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi or Wagner and firm in our knowledge that so much of Western civilization and culture hearkens back to such giants. We call them "immortal," but truth be told it is but our sincerest hope that they are so. Rest assured, however, that classical music will not die with us: The torch has already been passed to the next generation of its lovers and most earnest practitioners.

Tracy Garon, 22

"My plan is to teach immediately after my graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran College. If I can't find a job anywhere, then I'll go with graduate school while giving piano lessons," says South Korea-born pianist Tracy Garon. She notes that mentors and teachers have had a profound effect on her. "In 10 years I hope to be teaching in a classroom, incorporating as many urban education strategies as necessary to help students learn the material," she says.

Garon started her life in music with Diane Skrobis, founder of the Children's Choir of Waukesha, and piano studies in the Waukesha studio of Robbi Heighway. "I owe much of my love of music to these wonderful mentors instilling music in me at a young age," she says. Garon's musical core seems to be French Impressionism, saying that "while I absolutely love the music of the Romantic era, my favorite composer is Debussy, no contest. Right now I'm working on L'Isle Joyeuse for my senior recital. It combines everything I want in piano music-calm, aggression, fluidity, and a brilliance that moves me so much."

Wyatt Underhill, 17

"I originally wanted to play viola for some ghastly reason which I don't remember, but my first teacher [at String Academy of Wisconsin] said it would be better to start on violin and then switch later. I never switched," writes Wyatt Underhill, violinist with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO). He is also fluent on piano, which he took up earlier than the violin, but admits, "I don't really practice, I just play whenever I feel like it. I am better able to get around on the violin… Improvising is probably half of what I do on the piano, just for fun."

Underhill's future success seems assured: He won the MYSO Senior Symphony Concerto Competition last year, as well as runners-up or honorable mentions in several other competitions. He has even taken to composing his own music. Underhill acknowledges a love for such composers as Bach, Debussy, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Ravel and Mendelssohn, but above all Brahms ("I like nearly anything he wrote," Underhill says). Among professional violinists he cites Hilary Hahn and Gil Shaham as particularly inspirational. As for the future, he sees himself at Juilliard or Eastman, and perhaps one day as "a major soloist or an orchestral musician, maybe concertmaster of a major orchestra."

Michael Crisostomo Hey, 18

Michael Crisostomo Hey has applied to Juilliard for his instrument of choice, the organ. Though immensely respectful of J.S. Bach and the German organ school, Hey finds greater affinity with France. "The French Romantic era of organ music is one of my favorite eras of organ music," says the Waukesha West High School senior, citing such composers as César Franck, Charles Widor and their 20th-century successors Marcel Dupré, Jean Langlais, Maurice Duruflé and Olivier Messiaen.

"At the moment I'm learning [Messiaen's] Dieu Parmi Nous (God Among Us) for organ and will be using it in concerts and college auditions," Hey says. "Many of Messiaen's works may seem way too far-fetched for the audience, but if the organist programs his concert appropriately, Messiaen can be a breath of fresh air."

Family, friends, mentors and colleagues have been "extremely motivational and uplifting… There's no way I could be doing what I do today without their help," he notes, adding that he hopes to one day find himself "teaching on the college level, an organist or music director at a church or cathedral"-or, as this ambitious young man states, "any combination of the three."

Greg Surges, 24

The most avant-garde of this quartet is surely Greg Surges, an undergraduate senior in music composition at UW-Milwaukee. "I took piano and clarinet lessons when I was younger, but didn't get seriously interested until I started playing the guitar in middle school," he explains. During that time, Surges became interested in "recording and processing sound, [which led] to an interest in electronic music." As for classical/art music, Surges expresses both knowledge and appreciation, but his major interests lie in its future and where technology can take it.

"I really enjoy the music and thinking that came out of the 1950s and '60s American experimental music-John Cage, David Tudor," he says. "I find myself drawn to music and composers that challenge my conception of what music can be and how it's constructed."

Surges belongs to the Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra, has had works published by the Wandering Ear net.label and papers co-published at the Spark Festival and International Computer Music Conference. Yet Surges is not so far afield of the early masters-Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and so forth. "We're probably still historically too close to the avant-garde/experimental period post-World War II, but I think that it will eventually be considered a continuation of the tradition of Western art music," he notes.

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