Marika Fischer Hoyt makes music happen

MSO and Ancora String Quartet member plays Bach
Marika Fischer Hoyt makes music happen
Photo by Barry Lewis
Marika Fischer Hoyt

Marika Fischer Hoyt is as successful a classical music entrepreneur as we have in Madison. She is involved with no fewer than three of the most popular ensembles and events in town. Yet her first foray beyond playing viola in an orchestra came about by sheer luck.

Hoyt moved to Madison in 1999 after earning a master’s degree from Indiana University and playing viola in orchestras from Des Moines to the Virginias. She joined the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as a violist and a couple of seasons later, she joined the Madison Symphony Orchestra, with which she still plays.

Not long after Hoyt and her family had settled in, they had a new neighbor. Robin Ryan, the lady next door, seemed nice enough, but it took a while before she and Hoyt remembered they had played together decades earlier in Vermont. By then, Ryan had become an attorney, but Hoyt inspired her to start practicing. The following season, Ryan joined the violin section of the MSO.

Ancora String Quartet Takes Shape

Not long after, a fellow MSO violinist asked Ryan if she was interested in forming a string quartet. Ryan put the same question to Hoyt before they found a willing cellist. That resulted in the creation in 2000 of the Ancora String Quartet, now a significant part of Madison’s vibrant chamber music scene. Last fall the foursome toured Wisconsin and Germany, partnering with mezzo-soprano Melinda Paulsen, a faculty member of the Music Conservatory in Frankfurt. Their next concerts in the Madison area will take place in May and June. More information can be found at
Marika Fischer Hoyt makes music happen

“Bach Around the Clock” Revived

Hoyt can’t take credit for starting one of Madison’s most anticipated events, but must get full marks for resurrecting it. “Bach Around the Clock” is a 12-hour marathon celebrating the music of the great Johann Sebastian Bach around the time of his birthday (March 20). The event was first produced from 2010 to 2012 by Wisconsin Public Radio, launched by then-music director Cheryl Dring. Hoyt was quick to become involved. When Dring left Madison in 2012, she asked Hoyt to take over the production of BATC.

However, WPR dropped its support in 2013 and the event ended. In 2017, Hoyt decided to see what she could do to bring BATC back to life. The help of Ken Stancer, organist and musical director of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, proved essential.

With Stancer’s assistance and his church secured as the venue, Hoyt was able to get funding from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Early Music America and establish BATC as a nonprofit with a board of directors. The most recent “Bach Around the Clock” was held March 2, and the following afternoon several of the musicians performed again for the Chazen Art Museum’s “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen” concert series.

Hoyt’s latest venture is another outgrowth of her abiding passion for Bach’s music — and was also the result of fortuitous timing.

“Just Bach” Series Launched

Sarah Brailey completed her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and won the prestigious Handel Aria Competition in 2015. She then moved to New York City, and became a mainstay of the program Bach at One, held at the iconic Trinity Wall Street Church (just a short walk from the former World Trade Center).

Nearly a year ago, Hoyt was in the audience at a Bach at One concert, after which Brailey told her she planned to come back to Madison to pursue her doctoral studies. According to Hoyt, Brailey said her one regret was leaving the high-energy New York music scene and regular opportunities to perform Bach.

That planted the seed. Brailey was coming to study with Paul Rowe, a professor of voice in the UW-Madison School of Music. Hoyt and Brailey managed to recruit Rowe and his wife, Cheryl — co-founders of the Madison Early Music Festival — to form a new artistic team. Once they found a venue (Luther Memorial Church), they launched “Just Bach,” a monthly concert series, last September. The concerts are an hour in length and admission is free, with goodwill donations accepted. The performances are on historical period instruments and stylistically informed, with a variety of music that usually includes at least one cantata. A full schedule and more information can be found at

One can only wonder what else Hoyt might bring to music lovers. But before that one might ask when does she find the time to practice?

Greg Hettmansberger writes about jazz, opera and classical music for