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 12 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.
By John W. Barker
On Friday evening, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below in a photo by John W. Barker) gave, in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the concert that concluded its sixth season.
Founded in 2011, it has been a remarkable venture that has given student musicians of high-school level the chance to enjoy full-scale orchestral experience.
But the group’s founder and director, the versatile and multi-talented Madison native Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), is apparently irreplaceable in this effort; and he has found that he must move on in his career. So, this latest and 10th concert was also the orchestra’s last.
To mark the occasion, Utevsky, who just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is an enthusiastic champion of new music, and the orchestra commissioned a new composition, which then received its world premiere on Friday night.
The composer is the 25-year-old, Minneapolis-based avant-garde musician Ben Davis (below) who created a work with the not very helpful title of “is a is a is b is.” (I’m not making that up!) It is scored for a full ensemble of strings, winds and percussion plus an electronic screeching machine.
It is, in truth, not a piece of music at all, but a 20-minute experiment in the kinds of unusual — and not particularly pleasant — sounds that a group of orchestral players can make with their instruments. There are passages of repeated unison notes (the same one over and over) at goodly volume. And the last three minutes or so is an unaccompanied solo for the screeching machine on a single, piercing tone.
Whether this made a worthy valedictory salute to MAYCO’s audience and supporters is, I suppose, a matter of taste.
Fortunately, this new work was cushioned on either side by much more familiar material.
Opening the program was the beloved Overture to the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. This was brought off with full-steam-ahead momentum by the players under Utevsky’s enthusiastic leadership.
The players were clearly quite fired up at the chance to tackle this score and did themselves genuine credit. Utevsky provided fast and forceful leadership that stressed the dramatic power of this music—which was, in its day, as surprising and shocking as a lot of “new” music today, we must remember.
The audience shared with the performers a rousing experience.
Among his other functions, Utevsky also wrote admirably illuminating program notes for the Rossini and Beethoven works—contrasting with those contributed by Davis, which were as nose-thumbing as his composition.
It is sad to think that MAYCO is now a thing of the past. What a wonderful idea it has been, something that testifies to the remarkable quantity and quality of young musical talent here.
If his orchestra is now gone, we must certainly keep our eyes and ears open for what the gifted Utevsky moves on to next.