Arts and Culture

Token Creek Chamber Music Festival Celebrates 25 Years In The Barn

Unless you've turned down the drive some August in the last quarter-century, you probably never noticed the little pond by the side of Highway 19 as you head east toward Sun Prairie from US 51. But southward of the highway about one hundred and fifty yards is a barn that is so much more than a barn; for a brief, cherished stretch of days in late summer it is home to some of the greatest musicians in the world, acting like nothing so much as just playing for some dear friends.

Best known now for the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, and the place where Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison has created a number of his works, the land was once the family farm of his wife, Rose Mary. Twenty-five years ago the Harbisons launched a chamber music festival that, for all its appearance of modest means and limited seating, has become more than a Madison musical tradition.

This year the Festival consists of three programs (five performances in all), opening August 23 with "American Spring." The program (repeated on Sunday, but currently only seats for Saturday remain) is a typically eclectic mix: some C.P.E. Bach, a work by Harbison in which he takes familiar tunes and "plays" with them much like J.S. Bach did in his chorale settings, and a world premiere by Jeffrey Stanek.

On Wednesday, August 27 (no repeat of this program), Judith Gordon is featured on piano in music of Chopin Preludes and Scarlatti Sonatas, and will be joined by Rose Mary Harbison on violin.

The concluding concerts, August 30 and 31 marks the return of an incredibly piano duo, Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang. I was fortunate to hear them just a few seasons ago, and there is nothing like experiencing the complete range of pianistic technique up close from artists such as this pair. The program could not be more varied: some more C.P.E. Bach, Debussy, Ravel and Schubert.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the wonderful intermission snacks, complete with wine and soft drinks, and a setting that is unique to Madison music making. Tickets can be ordered by phone (608-241-2525) or by email at

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