Tag Archives: symphony

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.


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

Dionne Jackson takes on a Nielsen classic with the WCO

Musicians rarely play better than when performing a piece of music they love. Just ask flutist Dionne Jackson.

When the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra tackles Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto on Feb. 19 in the Capitol Theatre at Madison’s Overture Center, it will be a labor of love for Jackson, WCO’s guest artist for the evening.

“This is my favorite concerto ever written for the flute and one of the best,” says Jackson. The graduate of Juilliard and the Paris Conservatory serves as associate professor of flute at the University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts and assistant principal flute with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

“Technically, it’s incredibly challenging, with runs that are fast and difficult to play, followed by a gorgeous melody that seems to come out of nowhere,” the Chicago native says. “It changes mood very quickly, and that’s one of the things I like about performing it.”

Nielsen’s 20-minute concerto will be joined on the program by Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, on which Jackson will flex her considerable musical muscle. Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 79 in F Major round out the evening’s playlist.

The Nielsen piece may have the most interesting backstory, according to WCO music director Andrew Sewell, who will be conducting the evening’s program. It’s also one of the most challenging pieces by the Nielsen, considered one of Scandinavia’s two most important composers along with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

“There is a muscularity and power to Nielsen’s musical language and expressive tonality that may take the listener by surprise,” says Sewell, who has conducted several of the composer’s works. “His tonality shifts away from its center and is constantly changing and evolving. By contrast, he is also capable of the most beautiful melodies and effects.”

In the case of the Flute Concerto, Nielsen’s somewhat eclectic approach also encompassed his compositional strategy. After composing his Quintet for Winds and dedicating it to members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, Nielsen set out to write concertos for each of the quintet member’s musical “voice,” Sewell says.

Nielsen wrote his Flute Concerto for Holger Gilbert Jespersen, the quintet’s flutist, in 1926, followed by his Clarinet Concerto written for clarinetist Aage Oxenvad in 1928. Nielsen never got around to composing concertos for the quintet’s remaining three instruments.

“The work is in two movements and moves from intimate, folksong-like moments to dramatic full orchestra, or tutti sections, with the barreling timpani and bass trombone adding weight and volume,” Sewell says. “I think listeners should note the pacing of dramatic moments of power versus passive, more thoughtful sequences.”

The concerto also offers duet moments, with just the solo flute and clarinet, following a mini cadenza toward the end of the first movement, Sewell adds. The first movement is written in a traditional sonata form, while the second movement is more rhapsodic and free, with faster and slower sections contrasting each other.

The Nielsen piece stands in marked contrast to the Brandenburg Concerto. But pairing a neo-classical 20th century composition with a Baroque masterpiece is a deliberate effort to expand the evening’s musical palette and showcase Jackson’s skills.

The Bach composition will be performed with a much smaller group of musicians, with two distinct groups among the players both performing in contrast to each other and then blending together in Baroque polyphonic style. Jackson and WCO Concertmaster Suzanne Beia will perform the leading flute and violin parts.

“The Nielsen, on the other hand, uses a larger orchestra with the solo flute as the main protagonist,” Sewell says. “Often it is the flute playing against or in contrast with the orchestra. It poses a challenge to balance the ensemble to not overpower the sound of the flute. In the higher registers, the flute penetrates easily and carries well over the orchestra.”

Jackson might refer to this as the “bird’s voice” of the flute, an aspect that has kept her playing the instrument since the fourth grade. Originally, she had wanted to play the clarinet, but the school music teacher no longer had any clarinets left. Her father, a music teacher, suggested she try the flute.

“It was a lucky mistake,” says Jackson, who has performed with the Chicago Symphony and other orchestras. “I love the flute’s brighter, more upbeat sound.”

She also is looking forward to taking on the Brandenburg Concerto along with the Flute Concerto when she performs with WCO.

“Anything written by Bach is music directly from heaven and you can’t help but feel happy,” she says. “The Nielsen is gorgeous, too, but in a different way.”


The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, with guest artist flutist Dionne Jackson, will perform its third Masterworks concert of the season at 8 p.m. Feb. 19 at Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison. Tickets are $15 to $80 and can be ordered at 608-258-4141 or wcoconcerts.org.

UW-Madison to break ground on new Music Center

A long-awaited home for music performance at UW-Madison will soon be a reality, thanks to a recent $25 million gift from the Mead Witter Foundation.

The Hamel Music Center will be on the eastern edge of campus at the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street. It will feature two concert halls, with capacities of 350 and 800 people. The UW School of Music provides more than 350 free public concerts a year.

“Right now our current estimated timeline for the Hamel Music Center is to start construction in late 2016 and open the building in late 2018,” says Gary A. Brown, director of campus planning and landscape architecture. More specific dates won’t be known “until we bid the project and get a contractor on board in the fall of 2016.”

No state funds were forthcoming. Every dollar of the estimated $55.8 million cost had to be raised privately, through donations. Until the Mead Witter Foundation provided incentive to build the entire music center at once, it was to have been built in phases.

The music performance center had its beginnings in 2007, when $15 million was pledged toward Phase I of the project by the Hamel family of Sonoma, California. Three generations of Hamels attended UW-Madison. In 2014 the university announced it would name the new building for them. Fundraising appeared to have essentially stalled out during the recession. 

Rebecca Blank, named chancellor in 2013, made it a priority. The recent gift completes that effort. In appreciation, UW-Madison will name the department the Mead Witter School of Music and its larger concert hall will be known as the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall.

The combined Mead Witter family has a long history in Wisconsin and with the university. J.D. Witter came to the state in 1850 and made a fortune in banking, timber, manufacturing and hydropower. His children, Isaac and Ruth, attended UW-Madison. Isaac met George W. Mead there, introduced him to his sister, and they married.

Mead took over the family’s interests and served on the UW Board of Regents from 1928 to 1939. In 1950, the university awarded him an honorary doctorate. “Though none of our family studied music at the UW, a fondness for music unites us,” according to his son, foundation chair George W. Mead II, in a prepared statement. “Everyone needs music. It is an inspiration point for all areas of creativity and learning.”

The music center is being designed by Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture of New York in partnership with Strang Inc. of Madison. It will be designed to complement Madison’s civic performance spaces at nearby Overture Center for the Arts on State Street. 

In fact, the facilities’ personnel overlap. Overture’s architect, Cesar Pelli, was consulted by the university during the music center’s early design stages. Malcolm Holzman, one of the principals of the current architectural team, was earlier a principal at Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, which designed Overture’s predecessor, the Madison Civic Center. 

Holzman Moss Bottino has designed a range of performance venues, including those at the American Ballet Theater in New York City, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Georgetown University Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C., and the University of Southern California Music School and concert hall.

Past projects of Strang Inc. include renovation of the Mineral Point Opera House and the Touchstone Theater at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

The School of Music is currently housed in the Mosse Humanities Building, which is shared with the departments of history and art. The seven-story example of Brutalist architecture was completed in 1969. It’s slated for eventual demolition.

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.”


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.

The Milwaukee Symphony embarks on the hunt for Edo de Waart’s successor

It’s transition time for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. For several years, the company has been led by internationally renowned music director and conductor Edo de Waart, with the aid of associate conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, but 2015 marks the beginning of the end for that partnership — and the beginning of the hunt for a new leader to guide Milwaukee’s premier orchestra.

De Waart, who joined the MSO in 2009, announced in February that he would step down from his position at the end of the 2016–17 season, becoming the company’s conductor laureate. In June, Lecce-Chong announced his own departure, leaving to join the larger Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra this season.

Lecce-Chong’s successor, Yaniv Dinur, is in place, but MSO president and executive director Mark Niehaus says he and the official search committee are taking their time seeking out and appointing someone to follow de Waart.

“What’s really been quite wonderful in this particular process is how thoughtful Edo was in discussing his future plans,” says Niehaus, “and that we have over two years to plan for his departure which gives us the time to do a thoughtful search and really look at a lot of candidates.”

So what will it take to choose de Waart’s successor? For the search committee — consisting of musicians, board members and other staff — the process will be one of evaluation. Every possible perspective will be explored in the vetting process of each candidate, from ensemble members’ reviews of prospective candidates’ time on the podium to evaluations by audience members, who will see likely candidates perform as guest artists throughout the coming seasons. 

“We do 18 weekends of subscription classical music concerts. Edo has done eight of those weeks, which means we have 10 weeks available for guests,” explains Niehaus. While the MSO’s schedule and candidates’ schedules need to be aligned, he suspects candidates will be invited to perform more than once, to make an educated choice.

Niehaus says the potential candidates’ qualifications vary. Some will be conductors who have worked with the MSO and demonstrated chemistry with the ensemble. Others are specialists who prefer a particular repertoire that would work with the MSO. And some are talented conductors who have established careers. “It’s really about inviting conductors who we think have a musical voice, have a strong sense of community entanglement and will do great artistic work for the city of Milwaukee and our orchestra,” Niehaus says.

To be sure they’re doing all they can to make an educated selection, Niehaus says he and other members of the search committee will be hitting the road, observing candidates with other ensembles and talking to their peers in the orchestral community. “We’re going to depend on the wisdom of our colleagues in other cities to inform our process,” Niehaus says. 

And Dinur, an Israeli conductor coming to Milwaukee from Washington, D.C.’s American University, will be a particularly important colleague to consider. 

“His energy is amazing,” says Niehaus. “Yaniv is an accomplished pianist. He speaks eloquently about music, He has a body language as a conductor that is familiar to our orchestra and I think he is going to be an inspired choice for us.”

It’s a process that will stay largely behind the scenes, unfolding week by week even as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra continues performing with its world-class musicians. But if you keep a close eye on them, you should be able to catch the occasional glimpse behind the curtain — a precursor to the new era only a couple of years away.

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.”


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.


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

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.