The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Mikko Utevsky and the Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) show a growing maturity of technique and interpretation in music by Mozart, Copland and Prokofiev.

June 24, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

As a point of context, I note that on Thursday evening I returned from New England after attending the Boston Early Music Festival, where world-class artistry so saturates the air that one can almost cut it (with a bow or a reed).  I arrived just in time for the weekend in Madison.

To some that might sound like a descent from Parnassus into the boondocks. But it is hardly so at all. I returned to two successive evenings of concerts that could make any community proud – the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below, in Mills Hall) on Friday night and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society on Saturday night.

MAYCO playing

The concert on Friday evening, June 21, had particular significance as it symbolized one of the things that makes Madison so special: its capacity for nurturing young talent.

The proof of that was the first of the two concerts being given this summer by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in Music Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. This ensemble, now in its third performing season, is the creation of the remarkable Mikko Utevsky (below), who has just completed his freshman year studying viola and conducting at the UW School of Music.

(For background here is a link to a Q&A Utevsky did for this blog:

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Already a seasoned player, Utevsky is also a conductor of growing experience.  And he is a musician of enterprise, having drawn together young music students of high school and college age to produce a working orchestra.

Thirty-two players (below) were his resource this time, and they showed a seriousness of commitment that was palpable. There were rough patches of playing, for sure, but Utevsky has been able, in a short time with limited rehearsal opportunities, to forge them into a thoroughly credible, and creditable, ensemble.

MAYCO orchestra close up

His program this time was both intelligent and (deliberately, I suspect) challenging.

He opened with the suite that Aaron Copland drew from his film score for “Our Town.”  It is music that sounds so soothing and relaxed, but it demands great suavity of ensemble.  This was managed well, with some particularly fine work from the woodwinds.

Following that came Serge Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” This is so easy and entertaining to listen to that one assumes that it is easy and just fun to play.  But the composer not only has an ear for orchestral colors but also for very tricky instrumental techniques.

Once again, the woodwind players achieved high standards, but the full group was alert to what was asked of them, under the steady and intelligent control provided by the conductor.  The narration was provided, in a warm story-telling style, by Lori Skelton (below) of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Lori Skelton

Following the intermission came the program’s crown jewel, Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante” in E-flat for violin and viola, K. 364. This is arguably one of the composer’s greatest concerted works, an absolute masterpiece of invention and expression, especially in its moving slow movement.

In this work, the orchestra sounded best prepared, and it had as soloists two local stalwart professionals: violinist Eugene Purdue (below top) and violist Diedre Buckley Below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). For all involved, performers and audience, this was an artistically satisfying rendition of great music.

Eugene Purdue 1 Thomas C. Stringfellow

Deidre Buckley Katrin Talbot

In all, this concert was a renewed tribute to Utevsky, as conductor and as ensemble builder. He is clearly a musician with a future and certainly what Madison can be so proud of.

The second MAYCO concert will be on Friday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. It will feature music by those great masters Beethoven, Haydn, and Jerry Hui (below) — oh yes, he’s another Madison product to be proud of!

Jerry Hui

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