As of Sunday, May 11, Wisconsin Public Radio's glorious "Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen" concerts are no more. The news hit fans like a thunderclap this week when WPR announced that it would be cancelling the 34-year-old program that has become a staple in the Madison classical music community.
A weekly statewide broadcast hosted by Lori Skelton, Sunday Afternoon Live showcased classical chamber music performed at the Chazen Museum on the UW campus. Recent concerts have featured esteemed performers such as Madison's Pro Arte Quartet and Eau Claire-based violist Aurélien Pétillot.
Sunday Afternoon Live's first broadcast concert was in 1980 and included a performance by the Mirecourt Trio from Iowa's Grinnell College. Its final concert this afternoon featured UW-Platteville pianist Eugene Alcalay in a recital of works by Schubert, Beethoven and Wagner.
Though WPR published a FAQ about the cancellation, fans are still wondering why the program ended so abruptly.
WPR content director Michael Arnold, who oversees programming efforts, says the cancellation was fiscally driven but also speaks to WPR's vision for the future.
"Like many nonprofits, we face fiscal constraints and have to carefully evaluate how we use our resources," he explains. "The Chazen series has required WPR to devote a great deal of these resources to an event based in one city in the state."
Arnold says that while WPR was able to showcase musicians from across the state, the performers needed to come to Madison to participate in the program. The change will allow WPR to broaden its efforts to engage artists and ensembles at venues across Wisconsin.
Listener data indicates that the decision affects about 11,100 people statewide, Arnold says. This is about 6% of WPR's total audience on the News and Classical Service.
The decision was a difficult one for WPR, he adds.
"While we can understand the disappointment that this change has caused for some people, we hope they will realize that we're very committed to making classical music strong on the radio for many years to come," he says.
Sources at WPR say that the decision to drop Sunday Afternoon Live is probably set in stone, but Arnold emphasizes that the cancellation will not affect the number of hours that WPR devotes to classical music.
WPR plans to broadcast pre-recorded selections of classical music in the place of the live broadcasts. These new programming efforts will be spearheaded by Lori Skelton and Peter Bryant, the new program director for the NPR News and Classical Music Network.
But what about the Chazen, which co-hosted SAL concerts for so many years?
Russell Panczenko, the museum's director, says he first heard of the decision about two weeks ago, when he was simply told that the program was being cancelled.
"I asked if this decision was for financial reasons," he says. "The reply was, 'Among other reasons.' There was no further discussion or explanation."
The Chazen could stage classical music concerts in the future, but Panczenko says he will have to discuss this issue with university faculty and staff before making any decisions.
Though the future of music at the museum is uncertain, one thing is not: Sunday Afternoon Live concerts -- with free admission, renowned performers and an ornate environment filled with European paintings -- will be deeply missed.