Burt Levy remembered at Music from Almost Yesterday
Burt Levy, composer and teacher at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in the 1970s and 80s, made a difference.
Yehuda Yannay’s Music from Almost Yesterday series will feature works by Burt Levy at a concert Sunday at UWM, a concert that will trigger memories in generations of Milwaukee composers.
In 1971, Yehuda Yannay and Ray Weisling were in Madison, preparing for the 1972 Milwaukee Fresh Music Fare Festival, where they met Burt Levy.
It turned out that Yehuda and Burt had friends in common, as both had earned their DMAs in composition at the University of Illinois. Yehuda was (and still is) teaching at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee; Burt taught at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. It was the beginning of a long and close friendship, which continued long after Burt had left Wisconsin and ultimately settled in at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. In 2007, Yehuda and Burt produced the CD Uncommon Voices, with their own music and works by their teachers Salvatore Martirano (1927-1995) and Ben Johnston (who now lives in Wisconsin). Burt passed away suddenly in 2010.
I first heard the name of Burt Levy from a member of the Conservatory faculty, who had come to a college fair at my high school. He strongly suggested that I contact Burt about studying at the Conservatory. I ended up going to the UW-Madison, but I remembered the name. I later met Burt during my studies with Yehuda at UWM, then followed Burt and Yehuda’s path to doctoral studies at the University of Illinois, where I took several classes from Salvatore Martirano.
Milwaukee composer Sigmund Snopek recalls meeting Burt at a party held by the late John and Irusha Downey; he remembers being excited at the prospect of working with Burt, as Sigmund was also teaching at the Conservatory. Sig also remembers fondly a record by composer and flautist Harvey Sollberger; it included Burt’s 1966 composition Orbs With Flute, which inspired Sigmund’s SongSing to the Doldrum King. Many years later, during one of Burt’s visits to Milwaukee, the three of us were in Sigmund’s apartment. Burt and Sig reminisced about their time at the conservatory, and Sigmund retrieved Sollberger’s album from a shelf and had Burt sign it; Burt graciously complied, and was quite touched at the request.
On Sunday, March 3, Music From Almost Yesterday at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee presents Uncommon Voices, a concert celebrating the friendship and music of Yehuda Yannay and Burt Levy, featuring performers Bernard Zinck, Pamela Simmons, Karen Bechtel, Paul Bowman, Jayne Latva, Stas Venglevski, and Lisa Goethe-McGinn. Repertoire includes Orbs with Flute, plus Burt’s Chamber Music for Violin Solo and Throughput with Piano Trio, and Yehuda’s Statement for Flute, Marrakesh Bop for flute and guitar, Between: Two for Guitar, and the premiere of Incipit Vita Nova, for bayan.
Tickets: $12 adults/$10 seniors, UWM faculty, staff, alumni and other university students/Free to UWM students and patrons under 18; call the Peck School of the Arts box office, 414 229-4308.
David Bohn is a Milwaukee composer, pianist and teacher of theory and composition.