The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music interview: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra music director and conductor Andrew Sewell talks about the role of classical music in the popular Concerts on the Square. Part 2 of 2.

June 25, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Next Wednesday night, June 30, at 7 p.m., the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of music director Andrew Sewell (below) – who next season will mark his 10th season of with the WCO — will kick off its 27th annual series of Concerts on the Square up around the state Capitol.

The six free Wednesday night concerts, each running about two hours, that run through Aug. 4 feature all kinds of music. (For more information, including food, parking and other programs, visit:

But the opening concert this week will feature classical works. And the featured soloist is a student – Joseph Hauer, an Appleton, Wis., resident who won the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Young Artists Concerto Competition. He will perform the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 (1803), the same piece Hauer played to win to the competition.

Other works on the  “Summer Romance” programs includes Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” Wolf-Ferarri’s Overture to “Il segreto di Susannah,” Edward MacDowell’s “To a Wild Rose,” Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” two Slavonic Dances by Dvorak and two “new” tangos by Astor Piazzolla as well as the love theme from “Cinema Paradiso” by Morricone.

I recently asked Sewell about the role of classical music in Concerts on the Square, which have become a summer institution and can attract up to 20,000 people to the stat Capitol grounds and area.

Here is his e-mail Q&A with The Well-Tempered Ear. This is the second of two parts:

How has the audience’s attentiveness to classical music versus other kinds of music during COS changed over the years?

When I first arrived, I inherited a tradition of fast and loud, with lots of Sousa! We still maintain some Sousa for encores, and traditional concerts, such as July 4th, but I believe that if music is played well, and with integrity, it will tell its own story to an audience and captivate them.

We’ve also improved the sound quality, and sound monitoring and had more concerts broadcast over Wisconsin Public Television.  Also, there has been a marked difference in how quiet it is at the beginning and during concerts, which shows better attentiveness.

What reactions do you get when you program classical music that, unless it is the 1812 Overture, is not expected?

Each concert has a theme and title. I like to include some unfamiliar works as well and, along with Norman Gilliland, try to share insights and stories to each piece by way of spoken introductions. The 1812 has become such a tradition for July 4th, and with the special cannons from Illumination International to accompany the end, many people flock just to hear them go off!

During the July 4th patriotic concert, we also recognize the veterans present in the audience for their service, and perform the Armed Forces Salute, This work includes the theme song of each branch of the military in which they served.

What are your future plans about programming classical music for Concerts on the Square?

I think the mission of any orchestra is to perform and introduce classical music at the highest level. I like to find new and unusual pieces that people may not have heard, and share it with them at Concerts on the Square.

I’m also searching for new repertoire and programming options. Often I’ll come up with odd pieces that I think would work well for a Concert on the Square audience or introduce a guest artist that may be unusual for example, the Harmonica virtuoso Robert Bonfiglio or singer Hayley Westenra.

We like to celebrate our own as well, and last summer performed the entire Rachmaninov “Paganini” Variations with Madison native, and now Philadelphia-based pianist, Christina Naughton.

What questions have I not asked that you would like to answer or would like readers to know? Please feel free to interview yourself or expand this. I can always come up with questions to set up your answers

I think the pendulum swings between a more classical oriented COS season, and a popular one.  Sometimes the popular concerts are 1 and 2, 5 and 6.  On other occasions I’ve programmed the first and last programs as all-out classical programs with more pops style concerts in the third and fourth programs.

That’s how it has fallen this year. We have two popular concerts – “Poperazzi,” with guest conductor Michael Krajewski, and the Beatles Tribute band, “Yesterday,” performing on the COS concerts 3 and 4, respectively.

What comments of praise or criticism would you like to leave about Concerts on the Square?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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