The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra performs tonight even as founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky forges ties to several other local groups to ensure MAYCO’s future after he departs. | July 11, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear doesn’t normally run two posts on the same event in the same week or close to each other.

But it is a slow week in summer.

More to the point, I got a very intriguing response to my Q&A request from Mikko Utevsky, the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra.

You may recall the MAYCO performs tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the new Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes the “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn; the Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the world premiere of UW-Madison graduate and local composer Olivia Zeuske’s “Experiment No. 1.”

Admission is $7 with donations asked from students.

For more information, here is a link to the other previous post:

But in his answers, Utevsky revealed some things that The Ear didn’t know, including the many links he is forging with other local music organizations so that MAYCO can continue when he has graduated and moved on.

Talk about being forward-thinking!

Here is the Q&A from violist-conductor Mikko Utevsky (below) about the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which he founded when he was still a student at Madison East High School, before he started attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

Can you briefly introduce yourself and the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), including its history and makeup?

I am a violist and conductor studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. I founded MAYCO while a student at Madison East High School to provide a free summer opportunity for high school and college students to explore the chamber orchestra repertoire.

Members range in age from 13 to 30, and the specific composition of the ensemble varies from concert to concert based on the demands of the repertoire and individual students’ schedules. We focus on music of the Classical period, chamber works of the 20th century, and new music. We present a premiere each season.

Mikko Utevsky conducts MAYCO Steve Rankin

What are MAYCO’s plans for the near future and further out, including partnerships with other music organizations and concerts, recordings and the like?

MAYCO is in a transitional period right now as we pursue institutional stability. For four years, it has existed more or less as a personal project of mine. But I believe strongly in its value as an educational opportunity, and I want to ensure its continued viability in the future, even after I finish my degree and leave for graduate school.

Luckily for us, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) feels the same way. We have entered into a partnership starting this season to make MAYCO available as an official extension of WYSO, allowing us to preserve the institution that we have cultivated for Madison’s music community into the indefinite future.

We are also looking at relationships with programs for younger players (Music Makers and Music Con Brio). We try to introduce them to the world of orchestral playing and give them a taste of what they can accomplish as young musicians here or elsewhere.

We are very fortunate to have the support also of conductor Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), the city’s professional chamber orchestra that is helping its younger counterpart.

As far as program offerings go, the season of two concerts seems to be working for us very well, although a third would not be out of the question. I am particularly excited for a program in the works for next summer about which I can’t say much yet (but when I can, you’ll hear it here first!).

We have been granted a degree of flexibility by the receipt of the UW Arts Enterprise Association’s 2014 New Arts Venture Challenge Grant this spring to support our programming, which will allow us to perform a wider range of music, including more 20th-century works that must be rented.

Our relationship with WYSO is now such that we can receive tax-deductible donations, so if you want to support our work, visit the Support Us page on our website to make a contribution:

WCO lobby

What can you tell us about the program for tonight, Friday, July 11? Does it have a theme or something to tie it together?

This week’s program is somewhat eclectic. The title, “Triumph and Delight,” is a bit nonspecific. Triumph refers to the “Reformation” Symphony by Mendelssohn, which ends with a victorious affirmation of faith and strength, and Delight to the Piano Concerto by Haydn, which is a nimble, playful and joyfully fun piece of music. (You can hear how Mendelssohn uses the Lutheran hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in the symphony’s finale at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

MAYCO playing

What should listeners know about Olivia Zeuske and her “Experiment No. 1,” of which you will be giving the world premiere?

Olivia (below) is a gifted composer whose work caught my ear some time ago because of its characteristic, piquant sonorities and subtle rhythmic complexities. Her “Experiment No. 1” is a three-movement composition lasting about 20 minutes. This work was begun about a year and a half ago, and will represent her first large-ensemble composition. I am very excited to be presenting its premiere, having watched it take shape over many months.

olivia zeuske 2014

How did you decide to choose Thomas Kasdorf (below) as a piano soloist and the Piano Concerto in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn?

Thomas was an easy decision. I have heard him on countless recitals and in studios across campus, and most recently worked with him as a vocal coach and accompanist. He is a consummate musician — a sensitive accompanist and assertive soloist in one, with beautiful lyricism and technique to burn (with no need to prove it).

As a collaborative player, he is one of the few who will tackle a segment of the major repertoire renowned for the difficulty of its piano parts; pieces like Sergei Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata demand a technique like his, and he plays them brilliantly.

The Haydn was Thomas’ choice as much as mine. I originally asked him to play something by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with an eye towards the operatic lines in many of those concertos, but we couldn’t pick one! There are 27, after all, and all of them are wonderful.

I mentioned the Haydn offhandedly, having heard Emmanuel Ax’s recording recently, and he told me it was a favorite of his. I had already decided to do some Haydn this season, whether a concerto or one of the symphonies, which I love so dearly, so it seemed a natural choice. The piece is delightful — playful, with a touch of the deliberately unrefined “country” sound one often finds in Haydn’s music and a lovely, singing slow movement in between.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

The “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn is pretty well-known. But is there something special you would like the public to know about it or about your approach to it?

Mendelssohn’s own relationship with the symphony was somewhat complicated — I actually have a rather substantial historical note on it that will be made available on the orchestra’s website, though not in the printed program.

Mendelssohn (below) poured a lot of energy into it, holding high hopes for a performance at the grand tricentennial celebrations in Berlin of the Augsburg Confession (an important early Lutheran document). But it was not finished in time, and was not well-received when he sought other performances in the years following.

He eventually cooled to the piece, but kept the score around, perhaps moved by a lingering attachment to a work that, later in life, he described as deeply flawed. In any case, it was discovered after his death, and received its second performance and first publication about 20 years later.

In it, Mendelssohn tackles the programmatic ideas of A.B. Marx while also attempting to compose his own 20-year-old’s response to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a historical subject.

It’s a tall order, and one can understand why he felt it fell short (as anything aspiring to three massive demands must inevitably), but the piece is tremendously successful on its own.

The first movement is Beethovenian in scope and power, the scherzo delightful, the slow movement a tragic “Song Without Words,” and the Finale is a pillar of victory and might (again imagined on a Beethovenian level — think of the relationship between the outer movements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and their journey from tragedy to triumph). I think it holds up well against any of his other popular works, and can be a tremendously powerful piece.


What else would you like to say or add?

Of course, there is another concert this summer – “Summer Magic,” featuring Spring Green soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller — below — who is a 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition finalist. She will sing one of my favorite pieces, Samuel Barber’s nostalgic deeply moving “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” on texts by James Agee.

That concert will also include the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Ninth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, and will take place in UW-Madison Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, on Friday, August 22, at 7:30 p.m.

caitlin ruby miller



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