Tag Archives: orchestra

‘Return of the Tango’ caps off an exceptional year of concerts with Frankly Music

The last time Frankly Music assembled a tango-centric concert was five years ago — more than long enough to justify a return of the classic musical form. This time, the chamber music company will end its season with tango pieces from South America and Europe in Return of the Tango on May 16, a concert that also features the return of guest musician Stas Venglevski and his bayan.

The tango is best identified as a dance form, but Frankly Music artistic director Frank Almond says this concert will focus exclusively on the tango as a musical form. “The music of the tango has evolved out of a form of lower class entertainment,” he says. “The tango dance is something slightly different as it involves intricate dance steps and can be very difficult to grasp.”

Evolving in Argentina around the turn of the last century, tango music was born out of a melting pot culture of more than two million immigrants who would descend on Buenos Aires alone. It originated in the club scene in the late 1880s, with the first written pieces surfacing in the following decade. Early tango pieces would have likely been scored for flute, violin, and guitar, or played on a solo piano in brothels and cabarets.

The name that brought tango to the international stage was that of Astor Piazzolla. Born in Argentina in 1921, Piazzolla was the son of Italian immigrants. As a young child, Piazzolla listened to his father’s tango records, which slowly developed his fascination with the style.

Eventually, Piazzolla would train in Europe as a classical musician but would bring that training back to merge the two styles, creating the style of “nuevo tango.” “Piazzolla was a revolutionary during his time,” says Almond. “Even though he was slightly ashamed initially because of his early upbringing, he really brought the two styles together to create something unique and new.”

This concert will feature a wide variety of as-of-yet undetermined pieces from not only South America but also Europe. “People don’t always realize that, while a number of pieces come from Brazil and South America, there are also a significant portion of tango music compositions that came from European composers,” says Almond.

“This is a really special concert,” explained Almond. “It really exemplifies what I want to do with this concert series. We want to give a place where people can go and enjoy chamber music without feeling alienated. We want to educate without making people feel like they are being talked at. This concert represents the core of what Frankly Music is about.”

The concert will also feature Venglevski in a prominent role. The musician, now living in Milwaukee, is a native of the Republic of Moldova, in the former Soviet Union, and rose to prominence in the 1980s for his mastery of his signature instrument: the bayan, a Russian style of accordion. Venglevski is a frequent performer with Frankly Music and other local ensembles, and is well-suited for the evening of tango music.

Frankly Music will perform its Return of the Tango concert at 7 p.m. May 16, at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wauwatosa. Tickets are $35, $10 for students, and can be ordered at franklymusic.org. For more information on Frank Almond or to purchase his new record, A Violin’s Life, Vol. 2: Music for the Lipinski Stradivari, visit frankalmond.com.

Milwaukee Musaik reinvents the notion of a chamber orchestra

In late 2014, the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra board was looking at its numbers and not liking what it was seeing. Years of financial hardships had reduced the chamber ensemble’s season and it looked like the company would have to shut its doors.

Then three of the company’s musicians came to the board with a seemingly radical idea that would save the company: Give them the proverbial baton.

A little more than a year later, the company has been reborn as Milwaukee Musaik, a self-governing organization in which the musicians are in charge, keeping the ensemble small and flexible to suit economic and musical needs.

New board president and violinist Alexander Mandl says the transition really began in November 2014, when members of the MCO board asked him and some other members of the orchestra to take on more prominent roles to keep the organization afloat — a request he says quickly made itself clear as a stopgap measure. “It was only a matter of time before some major changes needed to be made.”

Mandl, violinist Jeanyi Kim and clarinetist William Helmers went to the board with an alternative proposal, formalizing their roles as musician-leaders and reimagining the orchestra to have an adjustable size based on the needs of particular concerts. Supporting them would be an advisory council of local and national musicians.

“This model is one that is seen more in Europe but less in the United States,” says Mandl.

The MCO board voted, approved the changes and passed the reins to the trio. They renamed the company Milwaukee Musaik, coined from a combination of the German word “musik” and English word “mosaic.” “Our name is representative of our musicians,” Mandl says. “We have a group of musicians representing various groups and organizations in Milwaukee like pieces in a mosaic.”

Milwaukee Musaik will retain the chamber music focus of its predecessor, which was formed in 1973 by oboist and conductor Stephen Colburn as the Milwaukee Chamber Music Society. Colburn led the organization for three decades, before stepping down and transferring the leadership to Bel Canto Chorus’ music director Richard Hynson. Hynson led the company until its 2015 restructuring, overseeing a number of successful collaborations with organizations including Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Danceworks.

But the new organization’s flexibility will enhance the opportunities for musicians in the area. “Since the organization is managed by the musicians, we can tailor our needs to various offers,” explains Mandl. “For instance, if we get an offer for a concert in Kenosha, we can create the ensemble to fill their needs from our existing pool of musicians if we don’t already have it in place.”

Mandl says the company also can feature individual musicians who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be in the spotlight, giving them solos and otherwise configuring concerts to emphasize them.

He adds that the company’s musicians are happy with the changes he and the board made. “Many of our musicians are chamber music specialists by trade. This is where they have strength — we want to share that in our concerts,” Mandl says. 

The company has held one well-received concert, at Wisconsin Lutheran College, and will be presenting two more concerts this spring at Mount Mary University. One performance, scheduled for March 1, is a European Tour, with works by Danish composer Carl Neilsen, Irish composer Charles Wood and German composer Ludwig von Beethoven. 

To learn more about Milwaukee Musaik and upcoming events, Mandl says to visit milwaukeemusaik.com. He adds that patrons can make a donation there to help support the organization.

ON STAGE

Milwaukee Musaik’s European Tour concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 1 at Mount Mary University, 2900 Menomonee River Pkwy., Milwaukee. Tickets are $25, $15 for students, and can be ordered at
milwaukeemusaik.com. 

Third annual Composer Institute brings artists of the future to Milwaukee

For the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s latest concert, every piece on the program will be brand-new — and from some brand-new composers. 

Nov. 4 marks the symphony’s third annual MSO Composer Institute concert, the culmination of a multi-day workshop for young and emerging composers. The five composers selected for this year’s event will arrive on Nov. 2, where they will work with MSO staff and musicians for two days on their world premieres, which will be presented on Nov. 4.

This year’s institute marks the first appearance of Patrick Castillo, a composer who became the administrator of the program in January. He said he’s excited to be a part of it.

“I’m in the position right now of overseeing the continuing development of the program,” explained Castillo in a recent phone interview, adding that he’s learning the ropes after replacing the previous administrator. “It’s pretty amazing to be part of the process to make all of this happen.”

Castillo was on the selection committee for this year’s event and said narrowing it down to five was tricky.

“There were so many talented composers that could have been selected,” he said. “We had a great, diverse crowd this year. In the end, we picked the pieces that could make the compelling program.” 

One of the composers, Gity Razaz, said she’s excited and humbled to be part of the institute. “This is my first really big scale orchestral event, which is an honor,” said Razaz in a recent phone interview. “I’m excited to work with the MSO and visit Milwaukee for the first time.”

The Julliard graduate counts teachers Samuel Adler, John Corigliano and Robert Beaser among her composition influences. The piece that will premiere with the MSO, “In the Midst of Flux …”, is a tone poem influenced by Middle Eastern music.

“This piece is really about transformation,” explained Razaz, “I wrote this piece in 2008 and, at that time, I was thinking a lot about the idea of life and death. For instance, the phoenix legend is that the phoenix catches fire, dies and then rises from the ashes. It’s such an interesting and beautiful concept about rising out of darkness. I wanted to capture that.” 

Other composers with this year’s institute include Daniel Allas, Saad Haddad, Youngwoo Yoo and Patrick O’Malley.

While the institute offers a great opportunity for a handful of composers, Castillo acknowledged there are many more talented composers who did not get selected.

“I encourage those who applied and didn’t get selected to re-apply. It’s so important to get your music out there,” said Castillo. “There was so much talent in the submissions — many of those who applied need to keep doing so. They have great potential.” 

Razaz echoed the sentiment: “I tell students to keep getting out there and not to get discouraged. I also remind them why they do this — because they love the craft. Composition is such a truly special art form, which is what I remind students and even myself when disappointment happens.”

ON STAGE 

The five works featured at this year’s MSO Composer Institute will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, at the Helene Zelazo Center, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd., Milwaukee. Admission is free, but tickets need to be reserved at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.

Orchestras welcome a month of ‘May-thoven’

Something classical must be in the Wisconsin water supply. This May, Beethoven-lovers practically can’t walk out of the house on a given weekend without stumbling on an orchestra performing one of the composer’s epic, groundbreaking symphonies.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will take up programs featuring Beethoven symphonies in the weeks to come. Madison’s single concert series, running May 8-10, will highlight his Ninth Symphony, and serve simultaneously as a tribute to the 10th anniversary season of their performance venue, Overture Center (see sidebar).

Milwaukee’s orchestra, on the other hand, will be performing in a distinctly different location than usual. In two concert series running May 14-17 and May 21-24 (featuring Beethoven’s Eighth and Fifth symphonies, respectively), the company will leave their home at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall and perform down the street at the historic Pabst Theatre.

It’s a venue audiences have seen the MSO traveling to more frequently of late and associate conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong says it’s perfect for programs like these two.

“The Pabst is this unique space, and these concerts are a chance to really try it out,” he says. “Every hall has its quirks and every hall brings out things in the music. One of the things we knew right away was that any smaller-scale, Classical-era stuff would sound great in the Pabst.”

Each of the two symphonies has its own character. Beethoven’s Eighth is short and simple, with a buoyancy to its four movements. The Fifth, on the other hand, is known for its powerful, forceful energy. 

While both concerts will culminate with the Beethoven works, Lecce-Chong says it was equally important to precede them with works by modern composers who share Beethoven’s progressive spirit and flare for innovation. He says the Pabst’s intimate atmosphere is arguably one of the most ideal locations to experience contemporary works like these.

“Acoustically you feel very close to the performance,” says Lecce-Chong, “and I think that is a great way to experience newer music. It helps bring the audience closer to the music.”

Newer compositions by the composers sharing the bill with Beethoven will include Vivian Fung’s Violin Concerto (May 14-17); “These Particular Circumstances,” a set of seven small pieces by Sean Shepard; Nico Muhly’s “So Far So Good” and the short work “Madame Press Died Last Week” by Morton Feldmen, written in memory of one of his earliest and most influential teachers (all for May 21-24). 

“Vivian Fung, Sean Shepard, Nico Muhly, Morten Feldmen … they are really the composers of today,” says Lecce-Chong. “If you come over these two weeks you’re going to hear how the sounds of the orchestra are being dealt with today.” 

In many ways, despite hundreds of years of historical displacement, the composers whose works will be performed across these weekends represent the fearlessness of creators who push the limits of sound design and find success in their willingness to go where others might not.

“Beethoven stood out because he was always pushing the boundaries of what people thought he was going to do,” explains Lecce-Chong. “Every time they tried to pin him down to something, he was off to the races, onto the next idea. You’re hearing music that was incredibly edgy when it first came out, paired with music now that we probably consider very edgy.”

Featured soloist Kristin Lee, who will appear over the first concert weekend, will perform Vivian Fung’s Violin Concerto. Fung’s concerto is heavily influenced by Balinese Gamelan music, which she incorporated into the concerto while on tour in Indonesia. Throughout this insanely virtuosic work, Fung combines the percussive presence of the Gamelan tradition with all of the virtuosity available to the violinist, resulting in a highly colorful showpiece for the violin. 

Kristin Lee will not be the only guest on the stage. The MSO will be led each weekend by a different guest conductor. Daniel Cohen will be on the podium for concerts featuring Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, followed by Edwin Outwater at the baton for the program featuring Beethoven’s Fifth.

“My great hope is that over these two weeks that this very adventurous programming around the Beethovens will heighten the senses because you’re going to be so close to the colors, the sounds of these contemporary composers,” says Lecce-Chong. “It will be a way to experience them up close, there’s an extra chance to really connect with this music.”

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Eighth May 14 to 17 and Beethoven’s Fifth May 21-24 at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25-$90 and can be ordered at either pabsttheater.org or mso.org.

ANd MEANWHILE IN MADISON…

Milwaukee isn’t the only city getting in on the Beethoven action. The Madison Symphony Orchestra will conclude its season with Beethoven’s own concluding masterpiece, his Ninth Symphony.

The “Ode to Joy” concert, conducted by John DeMain, will feature a full performance of the choral symphony, with four guest artists singing alongside the Madison Symphony Chorus. Also on tap is Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade,” considered one of Bernstein’s own best works. Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz will perform the violin solos of the latter.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is considered one of the greatest works ever to come out of Western culture, but it took a bit of time to be recognized as such. As program annotator J. Michael Allsen writes, several reviewers who attended the 1824 premiere openly questioned whether Beethoven was too old and deaf to produce quality work, and the musicians were under-rehearsed on the day of the event. 

History has proven those early critiques off-target. In addition to being a dynamic, captivating work in its own right, Beethoven’s introduction of choral elements to the symphony form (as he does in the fourth movement, with the poem “Ode to Joy” made famous by its inclusion) and its dynamic evolution over the course of the four movements served as an inspiration to artists of the subsequent Romantic period and beyond.

In this case, its selection is as much a tribute to the venue as it is the composer. In 2004, the Madison Symphony Orchestra ended its first season in Overture Hall with a performance of the work, which it hasn’t touched since. This time around, the symphony will conclude the MSO’s tenth season at Overture Center.

The program will be performed three times, at 7:30 p.m. May 8, 8 p.m. May 9 and 2:30 p.m. May 10. Tickets are $16-$84 and can be purchased at 608-258-4141.

— Matthew Reddin

A birthday party fit for a Stradivarius, at Frankly Music

From roughly 1700 until his death in 1737, Italian luthier and crafter Antonio Stradivari produced more than 1,000 instruments, considered to be “bold and innovative” even in his lifetime. To call a Stradivarius bold and innovative today is an understatement. The nearly 450 violins that have survived are considered some of the finest ever produced, and many of them are considered museum-quality pieces, on display at major cultural institutions across the world.

Other, luckier violins find themselves in the hands of talented violinists like Frank Almond, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster who performs with a loaned Stradivarius called the “Lipiński” Strad.

Produced in 1715, the Lipiński, named for its most famous owner, Polish virtuoso Karol Lipiński, comes from one of Stradivari’s greatest periods of work, according to Almond. The violin is designed with arching on the front and back sides to create an optimal sound, and is meant to be played in large concert halls.

It gets that opportunity often when Almond plays at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall, but it’s equally at home at the Wisconsin Lutheran College. Almond’s Frankly Music project will hold a concert there on Feb. 10 — a 300th birthday concert for the fabled violin.

Almond said in a recent interview that the concert will feature works that place the Lipiński in its best light, by artists like Giuseppe Tartini, Amanda Röntgen-Maier and Robert Schumann.

“(This concert) will provide audiences a chance to get to hear rarely heard music on one of the world’s greatest violins,” Almond says. 

Each piece earned its place on the program for different reasons. The Tartini piece, a Trio Sonata in D, has never been performed in Milwaukee, according to Almond. But another work by Tartini, the famous “Devil’s Trill” sonata, is the classical work most commonly associated with the Lipiński Stradivarius, because Tartini was one of the first owners. Premiering the Trio Sonata gives Frankly Music the exciting opportunity for improvisation, Almond says, because it was originally written for piano and violin only, and the cello part will be added in.

The Schumann piece, a piano quartet, also has close ties to the violin. Schumann was a close friend of Lipiński, and even dedicated another piece to him, a solo piano work called Carnaval. 

But Almond’s simplest explanation is left for the Röntgen-Maier piece. He says it’s just “a fantastic sonata that’s worth hearing.”

Almond says the concert is special in one extramusical way as well: as a thank you to the many police officers and detectives who helped recover the Lipinski Strad when it was stolen after a Frankly Music concert last January.

 “We’ve never been able to properly thank them for all of the work that they put into this case and making sure the violin was returned safely. It was wonderful how much went into solving the case, so this concert is dedicated to them,” Almond says. 

ON STAGE

Frankly Music’s Happy 300th, “Lipiński” Strad concert will be performed at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10, at Wisconsin Lutheran College’s Schwan Concert Hall, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wauwatosa. Special guests include pianist William Wolfram, cellist Robert deMaine and violist Mara Gearman. Tickets range from $10 to $35, and can be ordered at franklymusic.org.

MSO’s ‘Scheherazade’ merges music and storytelling

This weekend, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performed a program of works that not only lived up to the ambitious nature of their season, but even surpassed expectations through evocative, escapist storytelling.

The program, led by Brazilian guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger, included Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra and Saint-Saën’s Piano Concerto No. 2, but the centerpiece was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. A staple of standard orchestral repertoire, Scheherazade’s exotic, otherworldly atmosphere has the ability to transport an audience when done well, and the remainder of the MSO’s program took full advantage of that tendency Friday night.

Stravinsky’s suite offers the first hint of the MSO’s intentions, constructing a sense of place and time that is decidedly elsewhere, just beyond the reach of reality. Each movement is short, less than a few minutes duration, and humorously depicts a small queue of Stravinsky’s colleagues (Alfredo Casella, Erik Satie, and Sergei Diaghelev) in miniature form. The orchestra dove headlong into the concert opener, presenting each short but technically challenging movement with pronounced artistry.

More substantive was Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2, performed Friday by guest soloist Sean Chen. The composer never indicated the piece as a programmatic work, but nonetheless the work seems to have stories to tell.

The concerto deviates from the traditional concerti format — fast intro, slow second movement and fast conclusion — by swapping the tempos of the first two and opening with an andante sostenuto that unfolds as if it were reminiscing a lifetime of tales aloud. There’s a Brahmsian character and profundity to the movement, only the first conscious homage to Saint-Saën’s compositional predecessors alluded to throughout the work. Chopin’s legacy is evoked in the second movement, a joyous allegro scherzando filled with horn calls and lively romanticism from the winds and strings.

But Chen was most authoritative and impressive in the final, presto movement. After a thunderous opening, the movement swiftly shifts into a wild and mischievous tarantella of gargantuan, Lisztian proportions, which he executed with masterful conviction.

It’s an energizing finish that served as a brilliant bridge to Scheherzade, a wise programming decision by the MSO.  

Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite takes the stories of One Thousand and One Nights as its foundation, each movement a new tale told by Scheherazade to keep her distrustful husband, the Sultan Shahriar, from executing her in the morning. Each story begins and ends with the voice of Scheherazade, brought into being by concertmaster Frank Almond and continually accompanied by sweeping harp lines. The solo violin writing of the suite is considered among the most virtuosic in the canon, and Almond suffuses Scheherazade’s “voice” with life.

But the success of the MSO’s performance of Scheherazade cannot be merely attributed to Almond. Each new character or theme in the complex work was introduced by a different solo instrument in the orchestra. Each showed off an individual performer’s musicianship and artistry, as well as an attention to detail that transformed the evening from a mere concert setting to an adventurous journey.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will next perform Friday, Nov. 21, at 11:15 a.m. and Saturday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m., at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. The program will feature guest singer Michelle DeYoung as well as performances of Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Death and Transfiguration” and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major. Tickets range from $22 to $102 and can be purchased at mso.org or 414-291-7605.

Conductor De Waart makes most of streamlined MSO

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.”

On stage

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.

Previewing this season’s classical music slate

Wisconsin’s rich musical landscape favors the classics, and this year opportunities abound. Whether your tastes run to full symphony orchestras performing with crowd-pleasing thunder or elegant string quartets rendering delicate musical miniatures, there are options for you throughout central and southern Wisconsin. Here is a look at some of the more prominent ensembles and their seasons.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

A bevy of Beethoven, a rasher of Rachmaninoff and double-doses of Brahms, Mahler, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky mark what promises to be a titanic, crowd-pleasing season for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Artistic Director Edo de Waart takes the baton for 11 of MSO’s 18 scheduled concerts, conducting Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 1 in D Major” – also known as “The Titan” – (Oct. 14-15) and his “Symphony No. 9 in D Major” (May 25-26). The maestro also leads MSO’s all-Beethoven opener featuring the composer’s famous “Fifth Symphony” (Sept. 23-24), Stravinsky’s “Le sacre du primtemps” (The Rite of Spring) (Jan. 27-28), Debussy’s “La mer” (April 27-28), and “The Dream of Gerontius Op. 38,” Sir Edward Elgar’s heaven-stirring affirmation of faith with the MSO Chorus (June 1-3).

And if that weren’t enough, MSO Conductor Emeritus Andreas Delfs returns to lead the orchestra and chorus in Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” in all its sacred and profane glory (Jan. 20-22).

Uihlein Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee; tickets (414) 291-7605; www.mso.org

Madison Symphony Orchestra

Virtuosity, variety and a wealth of guest soloists populate Madison Symphony Orchestra’s eight concerts this season. Artistic director John DeMain’s eclectic programming mixes contemporary with classical, the unfamiliar with the tried-and-true to create a winning repertoire.

Pianist Andre Watts opens the season with Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A minor” on a program that also includes Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” (Sept. 16-18). The season continues, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell performing Édouard Lalo’s “Cello Concerto in D minor” (Oct. 14-16), violinist Midori performing Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” (Nov. 11-13), violinist Augustin Hadelich performing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 2” (Jan. 20-22); pianist Philippe Bianconi performing Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 4” (March 30-April 1); and even the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet performing Rodrigo’s “Concierto Andaluz” (March 9-11).

DeMain and MSO closes the season with an all-Gershwin program, including highlights from “Porgy and Bess,” a work for which the conductor is well known.

Overture Hall, Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison; tickets (608) 258-4141; www.madisonsymphony.org.

Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra

Pops and the classics mix in the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra’s six season concerts. With FVSO’s performance of the hits of Pink Floyd already behind it, music director Brian Groner and the orchestra are ready to get a little more serious in their mix of film scores, show tunes and Celtic rhythms, along with dashes of Strauss, Mozart and Mahler.

The party starts with guest violinist Philippe Quint performing film music composer Eric Korngold’s “Violin Concerto in D Major” on a program that includes Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra” (Oct. 1). “Three Phantoms in Concert” helps usher in the Halloween season with music from “Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables” and, of course, “The Phantom of the Opera” (Oct. 29). Young soloists Kitsho Hosotani, violin, and David Hou, piano, test their mettle on Saint-Saens’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28” and Liszt’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat, S 124” (Feb. 4). Irish and Scottish traditional instruments dominate St. Patrick’s Day festivities with “Celtic Celebrations” (March 17).

FVSO closes its 45th season fittingly with Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1 in D Major.”

Fox Valley Performing Arts Center, 400 W. College Ave., Appleton; tickets (920) 730-3760; www.foxvalleysymphony.com

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

The orchestra known for its summer outdoor Concerts on the Square heads indoors this fall for its Masterworks series. Maestro Andrew Sewell leads the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) in an inventive five-concert series highlighted by both local and internationally known soloists.

Pianist Ilya Yakushev opens the season with Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10” (Oct. 7). Cellist Amit Peled pays his third WCO visit to perform Boccherini’s rarely heard “Cello Concerto in B-flat major, G482,” aka, the “Grutzmacher version.”(Jan. 13). Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky appears with a (nearly) all Beethoven program, including the “Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68” (The Pastoral) and “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61” (Feb. 24). UW music professor and concert pianist Christopher Taylor solos on Irish composer John Field’s rarely heard “Piano Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major, H2” (March 16).

WCO and a brace of soloists will close the Masterworks series with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125” (Choral) featuring the much-loved “Ode to Joy” (April 13).

Capitol Theater, Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison; tickets (608) 258-4141; www.wcoconcerts.org

Also of Note

The Wisconsin Philharmonic (formerly the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra) this season is performing “Tour de France,” its all-things-French program at venues throughout Milwaukee’s western suburbs, starting with a Sept. 24 season tailgate kickoff party on Carroll University’s Sneeden House lawn. The six-concert series, which ends May 6, will include Debussy’s “La Mer” and “Clair de Lune,” Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” Faure’s “Pelleas and Melisande,” Ravel’s “Spanish Symphony” and Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” For details, venues and tickets visit www.wisconsinphilharmonic.org.

The Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra offers a repertoire of six concerts in its 2011-2012 series, starting off with a guest appearance by UW-Madison music professor and pianist Christopher Taylor performing Liszt’s “Totentanz” (Oct. 8). The season continues with guest clarinetist James Smith performing Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto” as part of a program otherwise themed “South of the Border” (Nov. 12); pianist Li-shan Hung performing Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 5,” the so-called “Emperor” (Feb. 4); a tribute to the film music of John Williams (“Star Wars,” “Saving Private Ryan”), with violinist Debbie Williamson soloing during a suite of numbers from “Schindler’s List” (March 10); and a season closer of Broadway melodies from top shows (May 12). For details and tickets visit www.sheboyagnsymphony.org.

The Green Bay Symphony Orchestra this year introduces new conductor Donato Cabrera with Saint-Saens’ “Symphony No. 3” (Organ) plus a little Dukas, Dvorak and Gershwin (Oct. 8); Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3” and Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante for Winds” (Nov. 12); Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4” and Strauss’ “Voices of Spring” (Feb. 11); as well as Christmas holiday programming and tributes to Irish rock and the music from Disney films and shows. WCO Maestro Andrew Sewell substitutes for Cabrera during several of the performances. For details and tickets visit www.greenbaysymphony.com.

Sweet Ensembles

The Fine Arts Quartet, founded in Chicago in 1946 and affiliated with the UWM since 1963, is one of the world’s oldest touring and recording chamber ensembles. Of the remaining 29 dates in its 2011-2012 performance calendar, many are in Europe and only six are in the Milwaukee area.

Upcoming engagements and locations include: UWM – Haydn “Quartet Op.71-2,” Bernard Herrmann “Echoes,” Dvorak “Piano Quintet” (Sept. 25); Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, Brookfield – Mozart “Quartet KV 575,” Shostakovich “Quartet No.1,” Schumann “Quartet Op.41-1” (Oct. 16); Milwaukee Catholic Home – Mozart “Quartet KV 575,” Shostakovich “Quartet No.1,” Schumann “Quartet Op.41-1” (Oct. 19); UWM – Mozart “Quartet KV 421,” Bartok “Quartet No.3, Grieg Quartet” (Nov. 6); UWM – Saint-Saens “Quartet No.2”; Brahms: Schumann “Variations, Op.9”; Brahms “Piano Quintet” (Jan. 29); UWM – an all Saint-Saens program featuring “Piano Quartet in E major,”  Piano Quartet, Op.41,” “Piano Quintet, Op.14” (March 4).

From Feb. 5-12, the group will perform at sea on the “Fine Arts Quartet and Friends” Caribbean cruise. For details visit www.fineartsquartet.org.

The Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this celebrates 100 years of existence this year, making it the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet. The ensemble began as the Belgian Quatour Pro Arte, but in 1940 changed its affiliation to the UW when Nazi tanks rolled through Belgium, making it impossible for the musicians to return home. The quartet, which was performing in Madison when its homeland was invaded, has been based in the Capital City ever since.

To celebrate its centennial year, the Pro Arte Quartet has commissioned original works from four contemporary composers, all of which will premiere during the 2011-12 season in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The works and their world premiere dates include:

  • Walter Mays’ “String Quartet No. 2” (Oct. 22)
  • Paul Schoenfeld’s “Piano Quintet” (Nov. 19)
  • William Bolcom’s “Piano Quintet No. 2” (March 24)
  • John Harbison’s “String Quartet No. 5” (April 21)

The world premiere will be accompanied by master classes held at the UW and lectures by top classical music experts. All events, including the concerts, are free and open to the public. For details visit http://proartequartet.org.

Fine Arts Quartet