The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra deserves to be taken seriously by local symphony fans. Plus, Edgewood College’s FREE Fall Choral Concert is tonight at 7.

October 18, 2013

ALERT: Tonight at 7 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Edgewood College presents its FREE Fall Choral Concert. The program includes the Chamber Singers and Men’s Choir under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below), and the Women’s Choir under the direction of Kathleen Otterson.  This free concert will feature a diverse repertoire, including traditional Western, African and American Gospel works.

Albert Pissonneault 2

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 FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.


By John W. Barker

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) is trailblazing in a number of ways.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

For one thing, it regularly has its concerts on Wednesday evenings (though the one on December 23 will be on a Monday), thus avoiding contributing to the already impossible crush of weekend conflicts.

Second, like some other groups, it performs a program without intermission (and follows the concert with generous refreshments, below, and a chance to meet the musicians).  Under some circumstances, that kind of program could be hard on the performers, given no rest.  But it does make for a compact concert experience.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

On Wednesday night, the MCO opened its 2013-14 season, its fourth season, at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School. And it sounded better than ever.

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

After some shuffling, the program had settled down to a familiar symphony, framed by two familiar overtures.

Hector Berlioz (below) took material from his opera “Benvenuto Cellini for his “Roman Carnival” concert overture.


Maestro Steve Kurr (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) tends to favor somewhat leisurely tempos, but not always just to make things easier for the players. In the slow opening material the strings delivered a degree of confidence and suavity beyond anything I have heard from them before. And the whole orchestra easily managed the brisker tempo of the overtures fast and flashy later sections.

Steve Kurr 10-13 Margaret Barker 2

The meat in the hamburger, as it were, was the Fourth or “Italian” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn (below). Given the limited number of rehearsals the orchestra can manage, it works miracles. To be sure, it could use more, and the somewhat overtaxed sound of the strings, especially the violins, seemed not quite fully secure, at least in the first movement.  But that movement contains particularly difficult string writing, after all.


Conductor Kurr rightly included the movement’s repeat, too often ignored by many conductors (who thereby lose some lovely transitional moments). But the work went very well, overall, in an intelligently conceived and very handsomely played performance, a real pleasure to hear.

The final piece was by Richard Wagner (below), whose bicentennial is being marked this year: the overture to his opera “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.”  It is an absolute marvel of orchestral writing, and the Middleton players made it sound truly magnificent.  Particularly noticeable was progress in the brass section, which sounded more secure, better disciplined and balanced, than ever before, truly splendid.

Richard Wagner

Madisonians, listen up!  It can fairly be said that our area now has four orchestras to take seriously.

Not only the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, of course, but the UW Symphony Orchestra as the third, and the Middleton Community Orchestra as an honorable fourth. Madison’s concert-lovers who ignore their concerts are missing some very fine music-making!

Fore more information about attending, p;laying in and supporting the Middleton Community Orchestra, which is heard playing Johann Strauss Jr.’s famous “On the The Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz in a YouTube video at the bottom,  visit:

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