By Jacob Stockinger
Last Wednesday night, I attended the season-closing spring concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by William Ballhorn) for the first time. I had intended to go other times to hear the new group, but could not attend for various reasons.
But Isthmus critic John W. Barker (below) went in my place and sent in very positive reviews that convinced me I was missing something important. Here are links to his reviews for this blog:
And here is a link to his latest review of last week’s spring concert for Isthmus:
I want to take a simpler approach.
I simply want to give you the 9 reasons I listed at home for why I so liked the concert by the MCO last Wednesday night, and why I intend to go again – and urge you to do the same.
1. I liked restoring the social aspect of an arts event. Too often we treat art as some kind of ascetic monastic order that is meant for only the most expert members, both performers and audiences.
The question that looms cover classic music today is: Why don’t more audiences, especially younger audiences, come to classical music concerts? Maybe it is as simple as they don’t feel especially welcome or needed. Maybe they feel pretty much incidental to the event – which in many cases they are.
But that wasn’t the case at this event, which included an informal, post-concert cookies and punch reception where you meet and chat with all the performers as well as other audience members.
2. I liked the contagious energy and committed enthusiasm of the playing. Were there weak parts and wrong notes? You bet. But the music was ambitious and many instruments are hard to play. Yet music is so much more than the right notes and the perfect phrase. How refreshing it was to hear ordinary folks like myself — community members such as students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, business people, salespersons and other professionals – throw their heart and their art into such beautiful works.
And the audience cheered them on. “Amateur” comes from the Latin word for “love” – and these people clearly loved what they were doing – and that made me, and others, love it too. It was an ideal example of what Leonard Bernstein used to call “the joy of music.”
3. I liked that there was no intermission. The concert started, proceeded and ended all in a single arc that lasted about 90 minutes. One could stay focused and not break the spell, so to speak. It is a model some of the professional ensembles might try to emulate. The concert started at 7:30 and I was home before 9:30 – even after eating my share of cookies.
4. I liked the young audience. Sure, there was a lot of older people. Sure, many of the numerous young people (below) – and I include everyone from maybe 5 to 35 – were family members and friends. But professional groups also have family and friends. The handsome and customer-friendly Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School, was between one-half and two-thirds full. That’s a good crowd for a mid-week, non-professional and low-profile concert.
I loved thinking about how the young people were taking in a sublime Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 (I think I saw more than a few young piano students); the exciting and rollicking “Jolly Robbers” Overture by Franz von Suppe; and the terse Symphony No. 4 by Brahms. Good exposure and early exposure are both key to classical music’s future.
5. I like the cheap admission. A general admission, festival seating ticket cost $10. Students got in free. That makes it accessible and affordable. And if you should be a little disappointed in some way, well you can always say you got more than you paid for. But I really don’t think anyone went away disappointed. Nor did they go away resentful or impoverished – especially at a time when tickets to professional events can run $50 or $100 a person. Moreover, you feel like an investor in the community. And that is a good feeling.
6. I liked the repertoire. Sure, new music matters. But so does old music, especially great old music. In general, new music makes incredible technical demands on the players and listening demands on the audience. These musicians knew their limitations and took them into account, though they also stretched themselves.
Nonetheless, we heard at least two certified masterworks by Mozart and Brahms – ones you don’t hear LIVE all that often. I hope they stick with the formula of a curtain-raising overture, a concerto with a soloist and a symphony. It works well. And it makes me look forward to hearing more symphonies and concertos by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert and on and on, from the Baroque period through the Classical era, on into the Romantics and up into the early moderns.
7. I liked the feeling of ordinariness. There was something fun about walking into the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) and looking behind you through the parking lot to see a baseball field being watered. That night, classical music felt so normal, so integrated into everyday life.
8. I like giving local people a chance to hear local talent. You don’t have to speak a foreign language fluently for people to be envy your ability. And you don’t have to be a professional musician for people to admire your ability to make music — to know it from the inside and communicate its beauty to others — and not just to listen to professionals or recordings. The “community” part of the group’s name is as important as the “orchestra” part.
Take just one example: Young Thomas Kasdorf (below top and bottom), who was Middleton-born and Middleton-bred and then educated at the UW School of Music, turned in a singing and snappy interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. It proved a beautifully subtle, even chamber-like, reading. I think I will remember his performance as much as will I remember those by seasoned professionals performing Mozart – whose transparent music is so difficult to play, whom the great pianist Artur Schnabel once said was “too easy for prodigies and too hard for professionals” or something to that effect.
9. I liked seeing so close up how music in made. It’s vicarious experience for me who is, like many others, a frustrated musician. You listen with your eyes. Here you could see the conductor and soloist communicating. You could see the various sections responding to the conductor. Just get there early and sit as close as you like.
During the program – not before – the very able conductor Steve Kurr (below) spoke to the audience and introduced the ambitious Brahms Symphony No. 4. It was the composer’s last and one of my all-time favorites. And Kurr’s short but enlightening and accessible remarks helped you to see, hear and understand this glorious work.
I suppose I could go on, but that’s enough.
Take my word for it. The Middleton Community Orchestra is a great new community resource, one well worth supporting with your money and your attendance. Go hear it. Go have fun.
Here is a link to its website where news of next season’s programs should be posted soon: