The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) excels in its inspiring performances of Mozart, Barber and Shostakovich –- and gives us hope at a time when we really need it. | August 25, 2014

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 for many years hosted 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.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Hope for humanity is not always easy to conjure up these days. But last Friday night at Music Hall, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, brought me a genuine dollop of it, thanks to the concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below. Performance photos are by The Ear.)

MAYCO Aug. 2014 1

That came, in fact, despite the frustration of an infuriating schedule conflict with the debut performance by the new early music chamber choir Summer Voices the same evening. Even in summer, we have these train wrecks now — and always on weekends! Have we reached the point of such musical riches here that no one person can really catch all the worthy musical events any more?

MAYCO was founded in 2010 by Mikko Utevsky (below) as a “summer training orchestra” for local high school and college students — and, at the same time, as a kind of training program for himself in conducting (while just moving from high school to college himself).

Mikko Utevsky with baton

What he has accomplished over four seasons is little short of a miracle. Here are young musicians, looking like confident kids, but playing with adult skill and intensity. And Utevsky’s enterprise has prompted him to take on challenging examples of orchestral literature, with convincing success.

The program this time was a very engaging one.

It began with the beloved Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, itself a musical miracle, and wrought by a precocious young musician at the end of his scant 36 years. It took a few measures for security to settle in, but the performance was spirited, well-gauged and thoroughly satisfying.

For this concert, the student orchestra had a vocal soloist. She was soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below left), herself a recent product of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music voice program, and currently studies with former UW-Madison professor soprano Julia Faulkner, who now teaches in the Ryan Center program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Miller and Utevsky discovered a shared love for Samuel Barber’s solo cantata, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and arranged to have her perform it.

MAYCO 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller and Mikko Uevsky

A gem of period nostalgia and childhood memories, contained in a text by James Agee, this work is one of the masterpieces of American vocal writing.

It proved ideal for Miller, whose full, ripe, beautiful soprano voice has been trained in careful diction, allowing her to escape a lot of the word-swallowing that afflicts the soprano range. The full text was printed in the program, but it was almost unnecessary, thanks to the very clear projection of the words by Miller (below). She was supported, in a slightly reduced chamber version of the orchestral score, with a very sensitive accompaniment, marked by truly beautiful woodwind playing.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller singing

As a treat, Miller sang an encore, the beguiling song “Early in the Morning of a Lovely Summer Day” by the 90-year-old contemporary American composer Ned Rorem (below, in a photo by Christian Steiner) in an orchestrated version — made by Utevsky himself. (You can hear the original version for voice and piano with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a YouTube video at the bottom. Talk about diction!)

Ned Rorem CR christian steiner

After the intermission came perhaps the most demanding test for the orchestra players: the Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). Composed in the aftermath of World War II, this is a piece of whimsy and of defiance to Soviet expectations — it brought the composer a raft of trouble and danger.

dmitri shostakovich

But its relatively brief five movements add up to a gem of Shostakovichian satire and sarcasm. It is full of theatrical suggestions, and its texture is as much that of chamber music as orchestral writing, with intimate interaction of sections and soloists.

The MAYCO players brought it off with real flair, under Utevsky’s amazingly expert direction. (And, by the way, he is a splendid writer as well, as his notes for the program booklet demonstrated.)

MAYCO Sug. 2014 violins

MAYCO Aug. 2014 cellos

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Shostakovich 9

Considering the fact that there could only be four or five rehearsals for each concert, it is astounding what this group of 42 gifted youngsters (only 19 of them string players) could bring off in the way of effective orchestral ensemble—even allowing for some rare blips and less than ultimate string polish.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 audience applauds

That our area alone could produce such talent is what has stirred my hope for humanity. Assuming, of course, that our country, in its currently muddled cultural condition, can find for these youngsters, as they mature, the jobs in which to make the careers they so richly deserve.

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments »

  1. So sorry to have missed this concert, especially the Barbaer/Agee. I went to the debut performance of Summer Voices instead. Yes, Ear and Prof. Barker, we are at a time when Madison’s musicians offer us more than one inspired performance in a night. Lucky us?

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — August 25, 2014 @ 9:27 am

  2. The MAYCO concert was titled “Summer Magic” and one was prepared from the programming to hope for fine-enough performances to justify that titled. Indeed it was so, thanks to the orchestral players and their soloist: Caitlin Ruby Miller gave a lustrous account of Barber’s marvelous score.

    Comment by Dan Shea — August 25, 2014 @ 12:43 am


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