The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Critic John W. Barker reviews two rehearsals and gives a big thumbs up for the concert TONIGHT by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) featuring local soloists and music by Vivaldi, Haydn, Beethoven, Sibelius and a world premiere local composer Jerry Hui.

August 9, 2013
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Madison marimbist Nathaniel Bartlett (below) will perform a FREE concert to celebrate the release of his fifth album “TimeSpacePlace.” Computer-generated music and the theramin will be used during the concert. For more information, visit www.nathanielbartlett.com.

Nathaniel Bartlett 2

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a “preview” review written by a 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

The second of the two concerts offered this summer by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will be given at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday evening, Aug. 9, at Music Hall (below), at the base of Bascom Hill on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Admission is $5, for students by donation.

MusicHall2

As the life of eternal schedule conflicts goes, I am unable to attend the concert itself. This is frustrating, for I have really come to enjoy what founder-conductor Mikko Utevsky (below) and his assemblages of student talent are able to achieve. But Utevsky very graciously allowed me to be a fly on the wall for rehearsals. He and his players have seven of them scheduled, on successive days (including a “dress” before the concert itself). I was able to sit in on two, and on them is this report based.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

The program will be a substantial one, culminating in Ludwig van Beethoven’s First Symphony.  It will include two concertos, one of them the delightful Trumpet Concerto by Franz Joseph Haydn, with the bright and superbly skilled Ansel Norris (below right) as soloist.

But there will also be a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, written originally for oboe, violin, strings, and continuo.  Following the dubious practices of trumpet egomaniac Maurice André, the oboe part has been hijacked and given to trumpet. That shift quite destroys the balance of solo matching, but has the positive effect of allowing Ansel to partner with his own brother, Alex Norris (below left), who is also the orchestra’s concertmaster.

Alex and Ansel Norris CR Kathy Esposito

That kind of familial closeness is almost a symbol for the larger connectiveness shared by all these players.

Two other works, quite contrasting, fill out the program.  One is the brief but suavely flowing “Andante festive for strings (with final timpani) by Jean Sibelius. The other is a completely new work, the world premiere of a composition, commissioned by Utevsky and the orchestra, by local composer and jack-of-all-musical trades, Jerry Hui (below).

Called “Glacies,” Hui’s composition was inspired by the imagery of ice, evoked in a score that combines both lyrical and polyphonic textures, blended in an expansive coloristic palette not without touches of Richard Strauss, but altogether a piece with a distinctive profile.

Jerry Hui

I have written before that rehearsals can be as enjoyable, in their own way, as the final performances, and many ways more illuminating. Rehearsals are where the real work is done by the performers and the conductor. Performances are essentially the topping on the cake, however inspired they may prove to be.  Among other things, attending rehearsals allows one to “get inside” a score, as its anatomy is laid bare and its details are worked out.

MAYCO Mikko conducting Steve Rankin

I have to say that, sitting next to the players, and following with a score, I learned more about the internal workings of the Beethoven First than a lifetime of listening to concert and recorded performances afforded me.

What most concerned me, however, was not my own intellectual improvement (however welcome that always is), but rather the chance to observe in its own element what a remarkable institution MAYCO is becoming.

Mikko Utevsky himself is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Music, working in viola and in conducting.  Precocious from childhood, he is already a very mature musician, with a clear talent, and passion, for orchestral conducting.  The rehearsals demonstrated that.  Still genial and boyish, he is nevertheless musically astute, able to correct and instruct the players in issues of rhythmic articulation, dynamic subtleties, and part balancing.  He clearly works hard at knowing the scores inside out.

Mikko Utevsky conducts MAYCO Steve Rankin

Having already had experience at conducting in high school, he has gone so far as to try creating an orchestra of his own, catching players in slow summer seasons.  This is its third season.

Utevsky recruits the orchestra himself.  He has a wide personal acquaintanceship with budding young musicians, at both high school and college levels, on his own experience. The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) is a particular source for players.  He regularly makes pitches at their rehearsals, and circulates printed information.

Utevsky also untiringly works the WYSO telephone listings to plead his case for participation. As a result, a majority of the players are WYSO veterans (as he is), mostly from the Youth ensemble of that organization. In some cases, players join after recommendations from friends.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Fewer than half of this year’s players are college students, the remainder at high school level. But almost all have had experience at one level or another with orchestra or ensemble playing–if in a couple of cases, only in high school bands. That is an important point, for the group is not an introductory Orchestra 101 for the players, but rather a chance to move on in their experience. (Utevsky likes to rotate chairs for the wind players to widen that experience.)

There is, inevitably, considerable turnover in the membership, but Utevsky finds a growing amount of continuity as well. For his first concert this season he mustered 32 members, of whom 12 were returning players. This time, out of 37 players, 21 are repeaters.

MAYCO playing

Utevsky toys with the idea of taking his group into performance during the regular season, but there is a serious problem with this: many of his players are residents of Madison, here in summers, but away as schooling elsewhere during the academic year. Still, the prospects for summer continuity seem now quite well-founded.

What Utevsky is creating is, on however modest a scale, a training-orchestra tradition in Madison. It not only gives him the opportunity to hone his own podium talents, but to give young musicians valuable opportunities for ensemble experience.

These players are all so young: they would look like ordinary teenagers if you saw them on the street. Yet, they are talented musicians. It is simply wonderful to watch them dig into their parts and make fine music together.

MAYCO Mikko rehearsing score Steve Rankin

Yes, it is not possible for them to work together at length, and really to evolve into a finely blended ensemble. But they do a fully plausible job — this is no “amateur” orchestra. And most of these players will go on into professional careers as musicians. These are the players who will join their nationwide peers to continue and renew our classical orchestral tradition.

One other special feature of this program is that it unites two of what I consider Madison’s superlative musical products–conductor Utevsky and composer Hui. How can Madison music-lovers fail to recognize and celebrate the nurturing we are giving to such prodigiously promising talent?

So I regret that I have to miss the actual concert.  But you can enjoy it – TONIGHT.

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Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will use its 13th annual summer concerts to explore expressions of LOSS on this Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, you can check Day 6 of WYSO’s tour to Argentina.

July 30, 2014
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ALERT: For the latest news from the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), here is a link to Day 6:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the many summer musical events that have become institutions to look forward to are the two concerts by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Here are the details, from a press release, for this weekend’s sets of two concerts:

ISTHMUS VOCAL ENSEMBLE RETURNS FOR ITS LUCKY 13TH SEASON

MADISON – When conductor Scott MacPherson –- a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions. (You can hear a stirring sample at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.)

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

Now in its 13th year, the ensemble -– a professional-level choir of approximately 60 singers –- brings new life to over 500 years of choral music. Amazingly, the choir continues to do it all within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular and remarkable experience, year after year.

Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2014 program.

The traditional Friday night concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, August 1, at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors; children 12 or under get in for free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802712

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, August 3, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road. General admission tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. Children under 13 get in free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802714

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

This year, the singers will tackle texts in Latin, French (medieval and modern), Russian, German, English and even a form of nonsense language, notated loosely in Finnish, inspired by both Scandinavian folk dance and the Muppets’ Swedish Chef (below).

Swedish Chef

This year’s performance includes introspective choral masterworks by Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and others, exploring the labyrinth of emotions begat by LOSS.

Also featured are contemporary works by Andrew Rindfleisch and Lionel Daunais, and a rousing conclusion with spirituals arranged by Moses Hogan.

The French chanson “Mille regretz” by the 15th century composer Josquin des Prez (below top) is matched by a modern setting by Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom). Here is a link top the home website for the Prix de Rome-winning composer Andrew Rindfliesch, who did his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison:

www.andrewrindfleisch.com

Josquin Des Prez

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The choir’s renowned low basses will be on display in Russian works including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Tebé poyém (We Hymn Thee)” and Alexander Gretchaninoff’s stunning “Ñe rïdáy Meñé, Máti (Do not lament me, O Mother).”

Rachmaninoffold

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

From the German tradition, Johannes Brahms’ Two Motets, Op. 74 (beginning with “Warum ist das Licht gegeben”), join Anton Bruckner’s classic “Virga Jesse.”

brahms3

Anton Bruckner 2

Other composers represented include Jaako Mäntyjärvi, Lionel Daunais, Henry Purcell (below), Imant Raminsh and the great spiritual arranger Moses Hogan.

purcell

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, who trained at the UW-Madison.

Scott MacPherson older BW

The IVE’s members include professional singers and choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two albums.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

For more information, visit www.isthmusvocalensemble.org or the choir’s page on Facebook.

 

 


Classical music: The University Club hosts a performance-dinner by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet dinner this coming Wednesday, Sept. 18. Later this season, dinners for the Pro Arte String Quartet and the Wingra Woodwind Quintet will be held. Plus, the Ancora Quartet performs tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Regent Street and Edgewood College singer Kathleen Otterson performs at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday — NOT Saturday.

September 13, 2013
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REMINDER: The FREE concert by the Ancora String Quartet (below top) with three guest wind players takes place tonight at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. Here is a link to my previous post, in which I originally, and embarrassingly, left out the starting time and had the wrong street:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/classical-music-the-ancora-string-quartet-will-perform-a-free-concert-of-rarely-heard-quartets-for-winds-and-strings-this-friday-night/

ALSO: Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below bottom) performs her recital at 2:30 p.m. on SUNDAY — NOT Saturday as The Ear mistakenly posted originally.

Here is more about her program:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/classical-music-edgewood-college-mezzo-soprano-kathleen-otterson-will-perform-a-recital-of-songs-by-gustav-and-alma-mahler-berlioz-rossini-and-andre-previn-this-coming-saturday-afternoon/

I apologize for both of the above errors and inaccuracies.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

Kathleen Otterson 2

By Jacob Stockinger

A series of three $40 dinner-performances at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s University Club (below), at 803 State Street across from the Library Mall, will be held over the new concert season.

university club uw in winter

The first one is next Wednesday, Sept. 18, starting at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails, and will feature the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), which last year marked its 40th anniversary as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music. It starts playing at 7:30 p.m. Members are UW faculty members and include: John Aley and Jessica Jensen, trumpets; Daniel Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and John Stevens, tuba. (You can hear the quintet perform with the UW Brass Ensemble in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is the music program: “Canzona Bergamasca” by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1653), arranged by Conrad De Jong; “Kyrie” from “Messe de Nostre Dame” by Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), arranged by Daniel Grabois; “Mouse, pl. mice” by Raymond Dempsey (b. 1933); “Psalm 27” by Joseph Blaha (b. 1951); “Cinema Paradiso” by Ennio Morricone (b. 1928); and “Vuelta del Fuego” by Kevin McKee (b. 1980).

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

The WBQ event is the first of three presented during the academic year. The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform on Jan. 30, 2014 and the Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below bottom) will perform on May 8, 2014.

Pro Arte Qartet  Overture Rick Langer

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2012

A partnership between the UW School of Music, Arts Outreach and the University Club make these events possible, according to Art Outreach director Mary Perkinson. They are non-profit and designed solely to provide community outreach for the various music groups.

The Arts Outreach Program, established in 1979, works hand-in-hand with the School of Music to share the expertise of its three faculty ensembles-in-residence with young musicians and community audiences around the state.

The UW-Madison continues to commit resources to support the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, having been the first American public institution of its kind to have artists-in-residence. In addition to performing as part of the School of Music Faculty Concert Series, each ensemble travels to Wisconsin high schools and concert halls, working with young musicians and performing for local concert series patrons.

To learn more about Arts Outreach or to book a faculty clinic or concert visit artsoutreach.wisc.edu, email mperkinson@wisc.edu, or call 608-890-4560

Here are the gourmet menu details about the generous dinner-performance  (the dinner is served at 6:30 p.m) at the University Club (below), which is open to the public for lunch and features terrific food, as The Ear knows from personal experience, with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

Wednesday, 9/18/13

University Club, 803 State St., Madison

 5:30 Cocktails & hors d’oeuvres

6:30 Dinner (three courses – scroll down for menu)

7:30 Concert

– Reservations Required –
Make your reservation online!

Reservations ($40 each)

608-262-5023

www.uclub@uclub.wisc.edu

MENU

FIRST COURSE  

Golden Beet Salad
Lemon dressed field greens with roasted fennel toasted
almonds & poached golden beets

SECOND COURSE

Osso Bucco
Braised veal shank with demi-glace & fried leeks accompanied by
duchesse potatoes & honey garlic glazed carrots

Roasted Pheasant
MacFarlane Farms roasted pheasant, fresh herb roasted
fingerling potatoes & braised brussel sprouts

Pumpkin Ravioli
House made ravioli filled with roasted pumpkin, tossed in a sage pine nut
cream reduction & garnished with shaved black truffle

THIRD COURSE

German Chocolate Cake
Chocolate cake with coconut pecan filled layers &
a chocolate butter cream frosting

The WISCONSIN BRASS QUINTET has presented concerts and master classes throughout the U.S., including performances at Carnegie Hall, international brass conferences, and major universities and conservatories. Their performances and recordings have been acclaimed by nationally recognized musicians and critics. Barry Kilpatrick writes for the American Record Guide, “I’ve reviewed over 250 brass recordings in the past five years, and this is one of the very best. The WBQ is a remarkable ensemble that plays with more reckless abandon, warmth, stylistic variety, and interpretive interest than almost any quintet in memory.” 


Classical music preview: Ancora String Quartet should excel in rare Borodin and profound Schubert this Saturday night

March 10, 2011
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A REMINDER: This weekend the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras hold their Winterfest Concerts this weekend in Mills Hall. On Saturday, March 12,  you can hear: at 11:30 a.m. Harp Ensemble & Sinfonietta; at 1:30 p.m. Percussion Ensemble & Concert Orchestra; at 4 p.m. Philharmonia Orchestra; on Sunday, March 13, at 2 p.m. the Youth Orchestra. For more information go to:http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/ConcertsTickets.html

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting that previews a concert to be given this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society Meeting House by the Ancora String Quartet. It is by a 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. 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

A week-length trip out of town, long planned, has managed to deprive me of several important musical events in Madison during that time period. No loss is more painful than that of the concert coming up this Saturday, March 12, by the Ancora String Quartet (below).

Fortunately, however, the ensemble scheduled a kind of preview performance of their concert this Tuesday evening, March 8, at the Capital Lakes Retirement Center, allowing me to hear the program after all.

The Capital Lakes institution, by the way, with its ample yet comfortable auditorium, offers some of the too-well-kept secrets of Madison’s musical life, in the regular concerts of chamber music offered by local musicians, for the residents, but also open free to the public.

Madison is, of course, blessed by the presence of the Pro Arte String Quartet, a world-class group that regularly offers top-quality concerts on the UW campus. But Madison is also blessed to have at least one parallel group of remarkable durability and artistic merit — the Ancora Quartet (below). Their devotion to adventurous programming, in dedicated, intense performances, has made them a force to reckon with in local musical life.

This latest program is a case in point, bravely pairing two extended and demanding works.

The first of them is String Quartet No. 1 by Alexander Borodin (below). The Second, in its lush lyricism and ready accessibility, is far better known and more frequently heard. All the more reason to make a case for the First. It is a longer and more complicated work, full of contrapuntal and fugal display, combined with Slavic passion. It requires intense commitment by the players but also serious attention by the listeners — with rich rewards resulting. Its wing movements, each cast as introduction and then sonata form, frame a slow movement charged with Russian folk spirit, and a scherzo that tries to beat Mendelssohn at his own games.

There were a few tiny patches of roughness Tuesday evening that further rehearsal and final performance will surely resolve, but the players give a really satisfying rendition of a genuinely absorbing work.

The second piece is Schubert‘s stunning String Quintet in C, his final work of any importance. Schubert was one of the greatest composers of chamber music, and this work is perhaps the summit of his contribution to the genre.

Charged with alternations of unearthly beauty and agonized panic, is also a work to which I cannot listen without hearing Schubert’s all-too-human voice. He knew he was dying when he composed it. As he had done in writing his 15th and final string quartet two years before, he tried more than ever to find refuge in creativity.

And, once again, he could not help reflect the terror he felt at the ending of his long, fatal illness. The Quintet’s first movement has as its main theme a typical Schubert melody of unearthly beauty, but when it is plunged into the movement’s development section the roar of protest intrudes.

The second movement (below) embodies a floating serenity that seems outside time, but a middle section breaks out in the furious rage that lurks as if behind such a mask. When the mask is again taken up, the lower cello line continues the rumblings of complaint until it finally succumbs to acceptance.

The scherzo third movement begins as a wild orgy of peasant dancing. But the conventional middle or “trio” section becomes a grimly lamenting look into the abyss that the composer sees ahead. Again seeking escape, he plunges into the rondo finale, full of almost forced gaiety, though its inner episodes slip into a thicket of shifting keys that suggests the despair that still cannot be overcome.

As I listened, I thought of Dylan Thomas’s poem beginning, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” All that, of course, represents my own very personal reactions to this extraordinary work. Others may prefer to listen to it simply as a feast of abstract beauties. But the dark side is difficult to deny. Schubert (below) finished this Quintet in October 1828. A month later he was dead, and the score had to be published posthumously—in 1853!

As in their other performances, the Ancora players put their backs into a rendition of searing eloquence. In this, they are aided notably by a guest. Schubert made the unusual choice of adding a second cello, not a second viola, to his scoring. For that, Karl Lavine (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot, who is an outstanding colleague of three of the Ancora members in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, where is principal cello) not only joins in but digs into his part with gusto appropriate to the fact that it frequently carries “the message.”

It is not often that audiences get to hear live performances of this fabulous Quintet, especially of such power. Amid all the alternative choices to be made, music-lovers should seriously consider the definitive performance of this program this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society’s Landmark Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets at the door are  $15 general admission, $12 seniors and students, and $6 children under 12. A champagne reception will conclude the evening.

For more information, visit: http://www.ancoraquartet.com/


Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: The Middleton Community Orchestra is impressive in its inaugural season

February 25, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special post that reviews a concert. It is by a 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. 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

Well aware of how splendidly we are served by our major musical institutions, I am nevertheless constantly delighted to discover how greatly our cultural scene is enriched further by less prestigious but quite enterprising and remarkably good musical organizations that are to be discovered hereabouts.

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below, rehearsing), founded just last year, is an offshoot of the Madison Community Orchestra, whose own foundation goes back to 1965 and to the initiative of Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor Roland Johnson.

I missed the November and December concerts of the Middleton group, but on Wednesday night I finally caught up with it in the third of its four concerts in this, its very first season of activity. And I found it really remarkable for a new group of its kind.

Its members come mainly from the Middleton-Madison area, with a goodly number of UW students, of course. But its outreach extends beyond, and not just with players drawn from residences further afield.

Of course, families and friends of the performers make up much of the audience, but I spoke to proud parents who had come great distances to hear their children play — one all the way from Dayton, Ohio.

There were also local soloists involved, two who happen to have spousal connections of distinction but who are accomplished professionals in their own right.

The first half of the program was dominated by Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and the soloist was Isabella Lippi (below). She is enjoying a lively career, both domestic and abroad, both as soloist and as concertmaster, and she is currently one of the candidates to be new concertmaster of the MSO. She is also the wife of David Perry, first violinist of the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet.

And, in the second half, a group of French opera arias were sung by Middleton-raised Rebecca de Waart (below), a superb singer who also happens to be the wife of the world-famous conductor Edo de Waart, the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra who currently resides with her and their children in Middleton.

Lippi does not have a big, bold tone, but a beautifully controlled one that she uses to avoid overdramatizing her playing. Her approach scales down the epic scope of this great concerto, imparting to it at times almost a Mozartean delicacy, even within its grand scope.

This approach paid off in the slow movement, too easily passed over as a mere breathing spell between the grandiose sonata form of the first movement and the rousing rondo structure of the third. The result was a valid intermezzo of relaxed but genuine lyricism. One might suggest that her approach was meant to accommodate the modest means of this orchestra, but it was a very satisfying rendition for its own sake, and a testimony to Lippi’s true artistry.

Gifted with a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice and a fine dramatic flair, Rebecca de Waart addressed two arias from Bizet‘s “Carmen” and one from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah.” For the Bizet items, she was joined by tenor Heath Rush, a fine product of the UW Music School. They not only sang their parts, but also acted them out appropriately.

As an accompanying ensemble, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) was well within its comfort zone in the arias and even in the Beethoven. And conductor Steve Kurr (below bottom) proved a very sympathetic and supportive accompanist.

What really put the orchestra to its test, however, were three workouts of their own.

Opening the second half, the brass players stood forth and delivered the prefatory Fanfare that Paul Dukas composed for his ballet score, “La Peri,” a grandiose piece that might be called, in an inversion of Copland’s famous counterpart, a Fanfare for the Uncommon Man.

The Middleton players certainly have a lot of strong blowing power, but one must admit that they could have benefitted from a bit more rehearsal. But the full orchestra showed utmost bravery in the works that opened and closed the concert.

Almost reckless bravado was displayed in their tackling Anatol Liadov’s short orchestral portrait of a wicked witch in Russian folklore, “Baba Yaga.” With its deliberately elusive colors and jerky rhythms, it is a very tricky piece indeed.

And at the other end of things was Liszt’s grandiose symphonic poem, “Les Preludes,” which requires a kaleidoscope of colors and sonorities of big-orchestra scope.

Totalling only 65 players in all, the Middleton group made an amazing showing for just its first season. Yes, there were a few tripped entries here and there, and the strings were overstressed in ensemble and strength (though congratulations for properly opposed first and second violins!).

But there are quite fine players among them. At the risk of neglecting other worthies, I express particular admiration for Andy Olson, a truly artistic master of oboe and English horn.

Above all, the orchestra in general showed such dedication and commitment that the rough passages of their initial character could be taken as merely growing pains in the course of their progress.

Offered in the really fine auditorium of the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), part of the local high school, this was a genuinely enjoyable affair. It makes the point that area music lovers do not have to limit themselves to the major orchestras and big name guest artists (whose reputations are not always lived up to!) to experience local solo and ensemble performances of satisfying quality.

The Middleton Community Orchestra deserves fullest support in pursuing its growth and maturing.

For more information about the orchestra and concert dates, visit:

http://www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org/


Posted in Classical music

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