Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra director Edo de Waart returns for the first time in 2016, and he’s bringing Jennifer Koh along with him. The “risk-taking, high-octane” violinist is one of the world’s top instrumentalists, and she’ll bring that fiery talent to Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto. Also on the program are Anna Clyne’s elegiac Within Her Arms and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony.
At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $17 to $107 and can be ordered at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.
8 p.m. Feb. 5 and 6
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra music director Edo de Waart conducts this all-American program, featuring a variety of works from our national canon. The highlight is Gershwin’s jazzy symphonic poem An American in Paris, but the program also will feature John Adams’ foxtrot The Chairman Dances, William Schuman’s Sixth Symphony and Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, performed with principal clarinet Todd Levy. At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $17 to $107 and can be purchased at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.
11:15 a.m. Sept. 25 and 8 p.m. Sept. 26
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OUT ON THE TOWN
If they wanted to return with fanfare, the MSO and its conductor Edo de Waart could easily accommodate. Instead, their first program of 2015 promises something better: Beethoven’s peaceful, contemplative Sixth “Pastoral” Symphony, a five-movement work that calls to mind the Austrian countryside. They’ll also present film music pioneer Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s brilliant Violin Concerto with guest artist Daniel Hope as well as Garages of the Valley, a new microtonal work by Mason Bates co-commissioned by the MSO.
At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $22 to $102 and can be ordered at mso.org or 414-291-7605.
8 p.m. Jan. 16 and 17
Edo de Waart, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has logged a lot of miles in the past few months. Yet the 73-year-old maestro remains remarkably vibrant and ready to take on his share of the MSO’s 2014–15 season.
A native of Amsterdam, de Waart splits his time as music director between the MSO and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic in Antwerp, Belgium, where earlier this fall he spent two weeks of his annual 12-week commitment conducting works by Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. After that, de Waart flew to Kuala Lumpur for a two-week series with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, made a brief stop in Madison (where he lives with his wife Rebecca and their two young children), and then headed to the Twin Cities to conduct an all-Strauss program performed by the Minnesota Orchestra.
“I am wildly jet-lagged,” says de Waart, just a week after his return to Madison. He’d already opened his sixth season with the MSO in September. The opening came in the wake of a financial crisis.
Back in 2012, in order to eliminate its long-term debt and try to stabilize its finances, MSO was forced to pull $6.5 million from its unrestricted endowment funds.
That proved not to be quite enough. MSO posted a $2.1 million revenue deficit at the close of its 2012–13 fiscal year in August 2013, a figure that added to the orchestra’s $2.5 million structural deficit. Without many options, the company sent out a call in December 2013 asking old and new donors to help fill the immediate need for $5 million to staunch the bleeding bottom line.
“People had been telling us for years to get our house in order, and they were absolutely right,” de Waart says. “We have been through 18 or 19 years of red ink and have always teetered on the brink.”
Fortunately, the donors came through. After some tough negotiations with the orchestra’s musicians that ultimately resulted in reducing the number of musicians from 79 to 68 and changing their health benefits, the MSO continues to survive, albeit on a smaller scale with a more restricted repertoire.
Other orchestras and performing arts groups have not been so lucky. Budgetary woes and musicians’ strikes have affected the Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in recent years, with the latter agreeing on Nov. 8 to a four-year contract, after a two-month lockout. In 2013 alone, the San Diego Opera and New York Opera ceased to exist, and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra nearly joined them, avoiding foreclosure by mere days.
De Waart says he was not aware how dire MSO’s financial situation was when he took over as music director in 2008. He originally planned to pursue building a symphony hall designed specifically for orchestral concerts.
Obviously the hall never materialized, and MSO still calls the Marcus Center home. But being in “survival mode” has helped the company hone in on cultivating the musicians who remain.
“We’re in a carefully optimistic mood,” de Waart says. “Artistically, we have not lost anything and the orchestra still plays wonderfully.”
Still, the downsized orchestra forces de Waart to be cautious when he programs his seasons. Big symphonies by composers like Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Dmitri Shostakovich can only be scheduled once or twice a year, when MSO can hire freelance performers to fill out the various orchestral sections needed to do the compositions justice.
Other than that, de Waart says, programming for MSO is much like programming for other orchestras, requiring a mix of audience favorites — Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Strauss and Tchaikovsky, for example — and new works.
“Programs that work offer a good balance between what audiences know and would like to hear again, some pieces that they know by name only, and some that they have never heard of before,” de Waart says. “You also want to make the program appealing to the orchestra, because if they enjoy playing it, the audience will enjoy hearing it.”
Audiences in general enjoy a mix that leans heavily on a blend of European classicists, including British, French, Russian and Scandinavian composers, he adds. However, the heavy lifting is still done by middle-European composers from Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia.
“There’s a general aversion among audiences to composers with names they can’t pronounce,” de Waart says. “If it’s a name they haven’t heard before, it’s like serving up a new fruit. They’re less apt to bite into it, so we serve it up in little pieces.”
Milwaukee audiences are no different, but their relative acceptance and appetite for new works pleases the conductor.
“They know their stuff and are pretty sophisticated,” de Waart says. “It’s nice to do your work in front of people who have a good ear for it.”
De Waart’s favorite composers include Hector Berlioz, Bruckner, Edward Elgar, Mahler, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and others of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “I like the Romantic and late Romantic style very much, because the writing for the orchestra is so sublime,” de Waart says. “It’s music that has a beating heart and comes right out of the emotionality of the composer.”
Despite the MSO’s continuing financial challenges, de Waart believes his orchestra can offer performances that are greater than its reduced size would suggest.
“MSO does an exemplary job on those works, both the classics and the contemporary,” de Waart says. “The musicians are adroit and flexible, which is a prerequisite for the modern orchestra. It’s the ability to creep into many different skins, as it were, that makes MSO as fine an orchestra as it is.”
Edo de Waart returns to the MSO to conduct Beethoven’s Sixth “Pastoral” Symphony Jan. 16-17 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For more information and tickets, visit mso.org or call 414-291-7605.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra isn’t pulling any punches with its season opener at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall. The orchestra presents Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, featuring an international cast along with conductor Edo de Waart and the MSO Chorus.
Shows are at 7 p.m. on Saturday and Tuesday; 2 p.m. on Sunday. At 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $22 to $102. Call 414-291-7605 or go to mso.org.
Sept. 13, 14 and 16
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