Jamie Van Eyck
American 21st-century music, jazz-drenched tunes from the Roaring Twenties, a little ballet and a little bluegrass will make Madison's 2010-2011 classical music season the most eclectic in years from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison Opera and Madison Symphony Orchestra. While the lion's share of the repertoire is mainstream classical, an enlightening array of modern pieces will get us in tune with what's happening in classical music today.
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
Andrew Sewell, music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, has picked repertoire for its Masterworks season that swings from ultramodern to standard classical. "The season is bookended with Beethoven, and we will combine standard orchestra works like Schubert's Eighth Symphony with works of the 20th and 21st centuries," he says. "We'll also focus on American composers like Daugherty, Torke, Higdon and Wuorinen." All concerts are in the Overture Center's Capitol Theater.
Michael Daugherty's "Strut" (1989-1994) opens the season on Oct. 8 with brazen energy. Daugherty combines 20th-century techniques with irresistible rhythm to make "Strut" a six-minute powerhouse. Young British violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky then makes his WCO debut with Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." Beethoven's "Symphony No. 8," a cheerful work with dark undertones, closes the first concert.
The Oct. 29 concert opens with Michael Torke's jazzy "Adjustable Wrench" from 1989. What does a wrench have to do with music? Torke would say that "Wrench" twists and reshapes melodies into harmonies. Schubert's "Symphony No. 8" ("Unfinished") and Mendelssohn's "Concerto for Two Pianos" in E Major make an intriguing contrast to "Wrench." Mendelssohn was 14 years old when he wrote the concerto, and Madison-raised pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton aren't much older. The Naughton sisters have the right touch for it - clear, confident and enchanting.
The Madison Ballet joins the WCO for a dance-inspired program on Jan. 21. It begins with Resphigi's "Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite III," a quartet of Baroque dances for strings. "Airs" is followed by Vivaldi's "Piccolo Concerto." Words like "ferociously talented" have been used to describe flutist Molly Barth, who just might give us a fresh look at this standard. "L'Eventail de Jeanne" is a group of dances commissioned by Parisian hostess Jeanne Dubost. Ravel, Ibert, Milhaud and Poulenc are among the composers of these delightful pieces.
On March 4 the show opens with Holst's "St. Paul's Suite," composed in 1912. You'll love its finale when "Greensleeves" soars over a toe-tapping jig. Jennifer Higdon's "Concerto 4-3" is a mix of bluegrass and classical techniques that premiered in 2008. She composed it for the guest performers, the energetic Philadelphia-based string group Time for Three. Milhaud's "Le Boeuf sur le Toit" has a surreal title ("The Ox on the Roof"), but the music is earthy with Brazilian flair and delicious dissonance. "The American Suite" puts the final touch on this unusual concert. "The suite is a four-movement design of Stephen Foster-like songs," says Sewell. "It was arranged by [Time for Three bassist] Ranaan Meyer and orchestrated by [American composer] John Hedges."
The WCO's final concert, on April 8, begins with a journey to Earth's undiscovered second moon in Charles Wuorinen's "Flying to Kahani." The work's complex harmonies will grow to frightful proportions as piano music slithers through the soundscape. Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 24," the most sublime of his piano concertos, transports us home. Pianist Anne Marie McDermott returns to the WCO for this inspiring creation. The season's grand finale is Beethoven's optimistic and profound "Symphony No. 7."
WCO special performances this season include Middleton Holiday Pops on Nov. 27 and 28 at Madison Marriott West and Handel's "Messiah" on Dec. 10 at Verona's Blackhawk Church.
Madison Opera celebrates its 50th anniversary this season. It all began in 1961 when a few Madison singers approached the company's founders, Roland and Arline Johnson, about forming an opera company. The beginnings were humble, but now Madison Opera is a resident of a world-class performing arts center and performs for thousands.
"We're not just celebrating art on stage," says general director Allan Naplan. "We're celebrating what we've done in the community." He cites the free Opera in the Park, which 13,000 attended last year, and the company's high school apprenticeships and master classes for young people.
The season opens in Overture Hall on Nov. 5 and 7 with Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, a comic opera full of plots and counterplots to make Count Almaviva faithful to his countess and to distract him from Susanna, Figaro's fiancée. Jason Hardy sings Figaro, and Anya Matanovic sings Susanna. Jeff Mattsey plays the philandering count, and Melody Moore is his countess.
Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera celebrates a Madison Opera tradition on Feb. 4-6 and Feb. 11-13. "During its early seasons, the Madison Opera staged one opera and one musical," says Naplan. "In honor of that tradition, [music director John DeMain] and I chose Threepenny as the musical theater piece for our anniversary season."
Threepenny, a modernization of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, navigates the seedy side of Victorian London and tracks the escapades of Macheath, a criminal also known as Mack the Knife. Weill and librettist Bertolt Brecht created a goldmine of songs with this satire. American Players Theatre actors James DeVita and Tracy Michelle Arnold make their Madison Opera debuts as Macheath and his ex-lover, Jenny Diver. Threepenny plays in Overture Center's Playhouse.
The season closes in Overture Hall on April 29 and May 1 with Verdi's La Traviata, a tragic opera about the high life of courtesan Violetta Valery. While her profession has its problems, true love has many more. Elizabeth Caballero sings Violetta and Italian tenor Giuseppe Varano makes his U.S. debut as her lover, Alfredo. Donnie Ray Albert plays Giorgo, Alfredo's father.
To catch a preview of the season's musical highlights and more, join Madison Opera for Opera in the Park July 17 at Garner Park.
Madison Symphony Orchestra
John DeMain, music director and conductor for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, likes early 20th-century music, and much of the MSO's repertoire this season comes from that period. "The music was written before, during or after two wars, so it's rich in experience," he says. "It was also written for large orchestras and percussion sections that were more developed." The MSO will also celebrate the anniversaries of composers Robert Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Samuel Barber.
As the MSO continues its search for a violinist to fill the shoes of longtime concertmaster Tyrone Greive, violinists invited to apply for the position will play in that role during this season's concerts. MSO co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia will act as concertmaster for the season's first concert, and Elgin Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Isabella Lippi for the second. "The concerts in January, February and March will feature other promising candidates," says DeMain. April and May will feature the top two. All MSO concerts will be played in Overture Hall.
The "Academic Festival Overture" opens the season on Oct. 15-17 with just the right tone for a city with thousands of college students. Brahms composed it in 1880 using four tunes from the Book of Drinking Songs for the German Student. The evening's centerpiece is the haunting lyricism and romance of Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2," featuring the crystalline playing of pianist Olga Kern. The concert ends with Bartok's inventive "Concerto for Orchestra."
The next concert, on Nov. 12-14, begins with a little jazz in John Harbison's "The Great Gatsby Suite," composed in 2007 and inspired by his opera of the same title. The suite takes us back to F. Scott Fitzgerald's opulent world in the Roaring Twenties. Then Richard Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" captures the essence of this German folk hero in a tone poem full of dualities and surprises. Dvorák's earthy "Cello Concerto" puts the final touches on this concert. Young cellist Alisa Weilerstein communicates a real passion for music, and the concerto should glow under her bow.
Snow will surely have decorated Madison's cityscape by the time the Christmas Spectacular rolls around on Dec. 3-5. This extravaganza features Metropolitan Opera star Angela Brown, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs and the Mount Zion Gospel Choir. With an army of such lovely voices, "Bah, humbug" attitudes will be vanquished.
The first concert of the new year (Jan. 14-16) features Tchaikovsky and two of our anniversary composers: Samuel Barber (born 1910) and Robert Schumann (born 1810). Barber's "Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance" is just as its title puts it - meditative in the beginning but wild and frenzied by the end. Schumann's "Symphony No. 3" ("Rhenish") is full of the excitement Schumann felt after he moved to Dusseldorf on the Rhine. Tchaikovsky's fiendishly difficult "Violin Concerto" was considered unplayable, but violinist Henning Kraggerud can conquer it. "Kraggerud's playing is over-the-top gorgeous," says DeMain.
The Feb. 18-20 concert begins with Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March, Op. 39, No. 5." It's not the famous graduation march (that's No. 1), but it has the same upbeat spirit. The Elgar is followed by two gigantic works: Beethoven's innovative "Piano Concerto No. 5" ("Emperor") and Prokofiev's colorful "Symphony No. 5." The poetic artistry of pianist Simone Dinnerstein should be sensational in the Beethoven.
The concert on March 25-27 presents all facets of life. Dvorák's "Carnival Overture" brings fun, Barber's "Violin Concerto" brings passion and Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3" ("Eroica") brings all the rest. The Barber concerto features Robert McDuffie, a violinist known for his probing intellect.
Stravinsky, Schumann, Vaughan Williams and Tchaikovsky make it a foursome on April 15-17. Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, and Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" explore Old Testament psalms, while Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" depicts Dante's Inferno with swirls of chromaticism. Robert Schumann's "Piano Concerto in A Minor" refreshes with beautiful arpeggios, and no one does refreshing and beautiful better than soloist Christopher Taylor, professor of piano at UW-Madison.
The final concert on May 6-8 features Mozart's "Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra" and Mahler's "Symphony No. 2" ("The Resurrection"). The concerto's harp and flute combination creates a charming music-box effect. MSO principals Stephanie Jutt (flute) and Karen Beth Atz (harp) will be center stage. Mahler's expansive second symphony ponders questions about judgment, redemption and resurrection. This concert commemorates Mahler's death in May 1911. Soprano Julia Faulkner, mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck and the Madison Symphony Chorus join the MSO for a rousing, reflective, redemptive season finale.
And on campus
Fill in your classical calendar with these 2010-2011 concerts at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Coming soon: Our preview of events at the Union Theater and Overture Center.
- Oct. 22: Jerusalem String Quartet
- Nov. 21: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
- Dec. 11: Cantus: All Is Calm - The Christmas Truce of 1914
- Feb. 17: Violinist Hilary Hahn, pianist Valentina Lisitsa
- April 21: Pianist Jeremy Denk