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Closing Ceremony:
Jessica Johnson Piano Recital

Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos (2007)



Cindy Stefanek, dancer

Kate Corby, choreographer


109 Improvisations (2020)

I. Evocation

II. Pastorale

III. Fantasy Variations

*World premiere

Italian Porttraits for Solo PIano (2021)

I. (Uno): Seas of Sorrento

II. (Due): The Catacombs of St. Callixtus

III. (Tre): The Desolation of Vesuvius

IV. (Quartto): Florentine Nights

*World premiere




Night Café at Arles (Musette) from Van Gogh Nocturnes (2008)   



On Being-this flood of stillness (2022)

*World premiere



Circle △ Square for piano (2018)

*World premiere


Sojourn for piano and percussion (2004)  

Anthony Di Sanza, percussion

Missy Mazzoli (b.1980)

(with dancers and soundtrack)






Elena Ruehr (b.1963)






Briana Ware (b.1994)







Laura Schwendiger (b.1962)


Laura Schwendiger (b.1962)

Serra Hwang (b.1962)


Serra Hwang (b.1962)


All newly commissioned works were funded by the Vilas Life Cycle Professorship program.

The program features four world world premieres with three of the four composers in attendance. All works on the program are written in the 21st century. The four new commissions were recently written for Jessica Johnson (designated below with “world premiere”). The three composers will be talking briefly about their works prior to the performance.

"This program features four new commissions composed for me. It is a tremendous responsibility to premiere a new work. I am deeply indebted to Elena Ruehr, Brianna Ware, Laura Schwendinger, and Serra Hwang for believing in me and providing this life-changing opportunity. It is a privilege and honor to work with each of you. My heart is full of gratitude." —Jessica Johnson



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Isabelle Eberhardt was an explorer and writer who, at the beginning of the 20th century, abandoned a comfortable aristocratic life for a nomadic existence in North Africa. She was a liberated individual who rejected conventional European morality in favor of her own path. She died in a desert flash flood at the age of twenty-seven. Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos (2007) imagines her riding on horseback through the desert, lost in thought, remembering sounds and sensations of her old life. Fragments of Schubert's A Major Sonata pierce her consciousness and are quickly suppressed. In her fatigue she dreams of a piano half-buried in sand, a flash flood of sheet music swirling around her. (Missy Mazzoli) 


109 Improvisations (2020) 

Jessica Johnson approached me with an idea to write a work inspired by Beethoven’s Opus 109. I began by playing it over and over again, and listening to various recordings. As I started composing, I found that I was improvising with small figures that I loved from 109. It reminded me of when I was a teenager and I used to improvise at the piano every night while my mom cooked dinner. I never wrote down these improvisations because it would have interrupted my flow. What I found as I was writing these pieces for Jessica Johnson was that I was back playing for my mom (in my imagination) but now I had such greater skill at writing things down that I could write as I improvised. Tempos should be fluid and improvisatory, and pedaling, while suggested, is at the discretion of the performer. (Elena Ruehr)


Italian Portraits for solo piano (2021)  

Italian Portraits is a set of four pieces that were inspired by my 2014 trip to Italy. This was my first trip outside of the United States and was also my very first flight! I was in Italy for three weeks with the Samford University Fellows Program for the culmination of our two years of study. During our time there, we travelled all around the country, including visiting Rome, Sorrento, Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Florence. Sorrento's calming shores, the catacombs of Saint Callixtus (Rome), and the nightlife of Florence were especially memorable and enjoyable for me. Additionally, seeing the devastation caused by the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (which buried the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae) in person was unforgettable and tragic to behold. The locations that I visited on my trip acted as the influencers for these short pieces. Thank you to Dr. Johnson for commissioning me to write Italian Portraits. I am so blessed and thankful to be included in this incredible project! (Lawren Brianna Ware)


 Night Cafe at Arles from Van Gogh Nocturnes (2008)   

The Van Gogh Nocturnes are my response to three paintings by Vincent Van Gogh.  The second movement, Night Cafe at Arles, is an evocation of an evening I imagined in the life of Van Gogh. A French musette begins the work, then, as the evening passes and after too much drink, a darker tone emerges. I remember a mention in one of his letters to Theo, in which Vincent writes he was asked to leave the bar. In my work, I imagine after he leaves, him emerging back onto the street, with only the musette heard wafting through the streets accompanying his walk back to his little yellow house. The work was composed by nomination for the Van Kliburn invitational piano competition in 2008, and is dedicated to Christopher Taylor, who premiered it. (Laura Schwendinger)


On Being- this flood of stillness (2022)

The last two years have been stressful for the world. During this period, we have been shuttered away, off and on, indoors, far from family and friends. It has been a lonely time for many and yet in some ways we have been more connected through zoom and other platforms more than ever before. The poem, On Being by Denise Levertov, encapsulates what many of us feel in these remarkably challenging days. (Laura Schwendinger)


On Being by Denise Levertov


I know this happiness

is provisional:


the looming presences—

great suffering, great fear—


withdraw only

into peripheral vision:


but ineluctable this shimmering

of wind in the blue leaves:


this flood of stillness

widening the lake of sky:


this need to dance,

this need to kneel:

this mystery:



Circle ∆ Square for piano (2018)

When searching for ideas for this composition, I began improvising on the piano, creating many sketches. After many days of experimentation, I discovered that there were a few core ideas that continued to present themselves; I considered them as building blocks or prototype ideas. The title “Circle∆Square” is used to describe something that is foundational. In Korean cosmology, the circle, square, and triangle symbolize heaven, earth, and humankind, respectively. (Serra Hwang)


Sojourn for piano and percussion (2004) 

Composed for Sole Nero piano and percussion duo in 2004, Sojourn is a Korean folk drumming inspired piece. The rhythmic cycles used for the piece, such as 8+9+10+10+9 or 10+6+10+10 are combinations of patterns that are common in folk drumming, especially folk ritual music of traditional Korea. Within each cycle, groupings between 2 and 3 are constantly changing to create an active and evolving energy flow. The large recurring rhythmic cycle produces a distinctive groove. Above this groove of percussion, the piano flows more freely, singing, telling, and chanting a story. It is to give the listeners a chance to sojourn into rural Korea. (Serra Hwang)

Jessica Johnson

Jessica Johnson serves on the piano faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy, where in 2006, she was the recipient of UW-Madison’s prestigious Emil Steiger Distinguished Teaching Award for excellence in teaching. Johnson frequently commissions and programs contemporary solo and chamber works, regularly performing with Sole Nero, a piano and percussion duo with Anthony Di Sanza, percussion An advocate for the adoption of the Donison-Steinbuhler (DS) Standard, offering alternatively sized piano keyboards, her upcoming recording features newly commissioned works by Serra Hwang, Elena Ruehr, Laura Schwendinger, and Brianna Ware, performed on the DS5.5™ (“7/8”) keyboard.

An active clinician, she has given workshops and presentations at the European Piano Teachers Association International Conference, World Piano Pedagogy Conference, ISME, MTNA, CMS, Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA), National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (NCKP), Portland International Piano Festival, as well as held residencies at major universities and colleges throughout North America, Europe and China. Johnson has articles published in American Music Teacher, Piano Journal of the European Piano Teachers Association, Piano Magazine, and the Piano Pedagogy Forum. She is a three-time winner of American Music Teacher’s Article of the Year Award for “Feeling the Sound: Reflections on Claiming One’s Own Musical Voice” (2014), “The Art of Listening with Depth, Understanding, Flow and Imagery” (2007), and “Awakening Rhythmic Intuition and Flow in the Developing Pianist” (2019). Current research explores cross-modal, multi-sensory engagement in the creative process, musician wellness, and the impact of contemplative practices on making music joyfully.

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A devoted teacher, Johnson’s students have secured teaching positions in North American, South America, Europe and Asia. Passionate about community engagement and arts outreach, she serves as Director of Piano Pioneers, a program that brings high quality piano instruction to low-income community members and at-risk youth in Wisconsin. She holds the DMA and MM from the University of Michigan, and the BM from East Carolina University.


Anthony Di Sanza has performed and presented master classes globally and serves as Professor of Percussion at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where was recognized with the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship in 2019. Active in a variety of Western and non-Western percussive traditions, he can be heard on many internationally distributed CD’s and videos. In review of his solo CD release, On the nature of…, All Music Guide writes; “Di Sanza dazzles not only in the assurance and polish of his playing but in his tremendous vitality and spontaneity.” Current projects include a second solo CD/video series, a soon to be released recording by the global percussion group, Duniya.


Di Sanza has percussion compositions published by Tapspace, Alfred and HoneyRock. He is principal percussionist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and has signature percussion products with Black Swamp Percussion and Encore Mallets. He endorses Black Swamp, Encore, Marimba One, Sabian, Remo products and Pro-Mark products.


“Compelling” and “full of gestured conflict and impish daring” (Chicago Tribune), Kate Corby’s dance works have been seen extensively nationally and internationally, including in Hungary, where she traveled as a Fulbright fellow. Corby, featured in Dance Magazine as one of six choreographers “on the cusp of making waves in the larger dance world,” is currently a professor at the UW-Madison, where she has taught since 2008, and served as the Dance Department chair from 2017 - 2020. She is also an active professional choreographer, dividing her time between Madison and Chicago, and established Kate Corby & Dancers in the Midwest in 2009. Her choreography has been called “ingenious” by the Chicago Reader, “jarringly beautiful” by the Isthmus, and was a Critics’ Pick in Time Out Chicago five times from 2011-2012. More recently, Corby began creating screen dance and her films have been screened extensively since 2016, including in the Detroit Dance City Festival Dance Film Fest, Flatlands Dance Film Festival, the Midwest RAD Festival, the Jacksonville Dance Film Festival, the Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema, and the Wisconsin Film Festival, among others. Corby received her MFA in Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana and her BA in Theater Arts and Women’s Studies from Beloit College.

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Anthony Di Sanza



Kate Corby



About Composers

Performance Order


Recently deemed “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” (NY Times) and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” (Time Out NY), Missy Mazzoli has had her music performed by the Kronos Quartet, LA Opera, eighth blackbird, the BBC Symphony, Scottish Opera, and many others. In 2018 she became one of the first two women, along with Jeanine Tesori, to receive a main stage commission from the Metropolitan Opera and was nominated for a Grammy award. She is Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and from 2012-2015 was Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia. Upcoming commissions include works for Opera Philadelphia, the National Ballet of Canada, Chicago Lyric Opera and Norwegian National Opera. Her works are published by G. Schirmer.


Composer Elena Ruehrs work has been described as “sumptuously scored and full of soaring melodies” (The New York Times), and “unspeakably gorgeous” (Gramophone).  An award winning faculty member at MIT, she has also been a Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute and composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which performed and recorded her major orchestral works (O’Keeffe Images, BMOP Sound) as well as the opera Toussaint Before the Spirits (Arsis Records). She has numerous recordings including: Six String Quartets by Elena Ruehr (Avie), Averno (Avie with the Trinity Choir, Julian Wachner, conducting), Jane Wang considers the Dragonfly (Albany), Lift (Avie), Shimmer (Metamorphosen Chamber Ensemble on Albany) and Shadow Light (The New Orchestra of Washington with Marcus Thompson on Acis).   She has written five operas and many cantatas, orchestral music, chamber music and songs.  She has also written for film and dance.  She is an enthusiastic teacher at MIT, where she has received the Baker Award for Undergraduate Teaching.


Lawren Brianna Ware, a Gadsden, Alabama native, is a doctoral student (ABD) who is pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Composition at UW-Madison. Additionally, she is minoring in historical musicology. Ms. Ware has served as a Mead-Witter School of Music teaching assistant for the Music In Performance classes and was the Secretary of the Graduate Association of Interdisciplinary Music Students (GAIMS)(2020-2021). Outside of school, she owns her own private Madison-based piano studio, B. Ware Works Piano Studio. Additionally, she accompanies vocalists and instrumentalists and performs as often as she can. Ms. Ware has been awarded the David and Edith Sinaiko Frank Graduate Fellowship for a Woman in the Arts, Mullen Prize for Sacred Music (composition, 2017) and was named the 2017 Overture Center Rising Stars Grand Prize Winner. As a result of the Rising Stars win, she had the opportunity to perform as an opener for The Branford Marsalis Quartet in April of 2019. She holds degrees in piano performance from Samford University (BM) and The University of Wisconsin-Madison (MM).


Laura Schwendinger was the first winner of the Berlin Prize in Music and is a Professor at UW Madison. Her music has been championed by Dawn Upshaw, Arditti & JACK Quartets, Jennifer Koh, Janine Jansen, Matt Haimovitz, International Contemporary Ensemble, Eighth Blackbird, Lincoln Trio, New Juilliard Ensemble, Trinity Wall Street, American Composers Orch, Liszt Chamber Orch, National Flute Assoc, Chamber Music America, NewMusic USA, American League of Orchestras; At the Kennedy & Lincoln Centers, Symphony Space, Berlin Philharmonic, Théâtre du Châtelet, Wigmore & Carnegie Halls, Miller Theater, and Tanglewood, Aspen, Talis, Bennington & Ojai Music Festivals. Her many honors include Fellowships from the Guggenheim, Fromm, and Koussevitzky Foundations; Chamber Music America, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard Musical Assoc, Copland House, and MacDowell, Yaddo, Rockefeller Found. Bellagio, and Bogliasco fellowships. She was 1st Prize winner of the ALEA III competition (1995) and recipient of two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, (for "mid-career composers with exceptional talent”) Reviews of her work include those from The NY Times, a “captivating disc..sketches musical stories of fragility and purpose”, “darkly attractive, artful..moving”, “evokes serene mystery.. infinite beauty” and an “acute sonic imagination, sure command of craft” in the Chicago Tribune, and in the Boston Globe “shrewd composing..genuine article. Onto ''season's best list”. Of her opera Artemisia, The SF Classical Voice review read “Artemisia is sumptuous on every level…” Of her Albany CD with the JACK Quartet, Colin Clarke wrote in Fanfare “the sheer intensity of the music…is spellbinding, as if the passion of the composer for her subject shines through like a light.” Her second opera Cabaret of Shadows (a Fromm commission) will be premiered in March 2022 by Musiqa.

Her music is published by Keiser/ Southern Music.


Serra Hwang was born in Seoul, Korea and received her education in the United States. She received her MA and DMA in Composition from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Musical awards include the performance of her orchestral piece Pinari by the Hallé Orchestra for the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) Composer’s Platform and the winning of first prize in the International League for Women Composers’ Search for New Music Competition. Serra Hwang’s music has been performed in South America, Asia, Europe, and North America, including concerts more recently at the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts in Seoul and ICWM (International Conference for Women Musicians) in Beijing, China. Recent composition projects include writing for PEP (Piano and Erhu Project) and the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival. CD recordings include IEL (Innocent Eyes & Lenses) label’s Asian American Music Compilation CD Project, Boldly Expressive: Music by Women on Albany, and cellist Anthony Arnone’s Beckoning on MSR. Hwang has been on the faculty of Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State University. Currently she resides in Vancouver.

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