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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Madison's 2012-13 classical music season has a youthful glow
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Credit:Michael Lotenero

Our classical music groups at the Overture Center have prepared an alluring array of offerings for the 2012-2013 season. Many of the composers represented created their works when they were under 30, and some under 20, giving the season a youthful glow. In this milieu of innocent creations, late works like Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante and Brahms' Fourth Symphony sound weightier and more dramatic.

Here's a look at what Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra have in store - everything from treachery to vengeance to seduction to virtuosity.

Madison Opera

The Madison Opera's season is an intriguing mix of comedy noir, tragedy and mythology. And for general director Kathyrn Smith, there's nothing like witnessing all this in real time.

"A live performance stays with you for decades to come," says Smith. "You can remember who you were and what was going on in your life when you first heard Don Giovanni's champagne aria."

The season opens in Overture Hall on Oct. 26 and 28 with Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball). It premiered in Rome in 1859 and is loosely based on Eugène Scribe's play about the assassination of Gustav III of Sweden at a masked ball in 1792.

William Joyner, who played the older Galileo in Galileo Galilei last season, plays Gustav, a monarch who treats his own safety with reckless abandon. He needs the protection of Anckarström, his trusted secretary and best friend, but things get complicated when Gustav falls in love with Anckarström's wife, Amelia.

Verdi's orchestration captures the glitter of regal splendor and the murky complexity of sedition. The stage director is Kristine McIntyre, who directed Mozart's Cosi fan tutte for the company in 2009. The opera will be sung in Italian with projected English translation.

We'll have a Baroque opera experience in the Overture Center's Playhouse on Jan. 10-13 when the company presents Handel's pastoral opera, Acis and Galatea. The libretto, by John Gay (The Beggar's Opera), takes us into a mythological world where Acis, a mortal, falls in love with Galatea, a semi-divine nymph. But their bliss is destroyed when the cyclops, Polyphemus, decides that he loves Galatea. Love doesn't get any more complicated than this.

A 12-piece Baroque orchestra will set the tone with cheery dotted rhythms. The singers and stage director, David Lefkowich, will be making their Madison Opera debuts. This is an English-language opera, but the text will be projected.

The legendary womanizer returns on April 26 and 28 when Mozart's Don Giovanni does damage to women's hearts and bourgeois morals at Overture Hall. The vile behavior of this oversexed knight leaves women seeking revenge. Donna Anna wants to avenge the death of her father, the Commendatore, at the hands of the villain. Donna Elvira wants to punish him for breaking his commitment to her. But the Don refuses to repent of his evil ways, even as the statue of the dead Commendatore drags him to hell.

Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte put special effort into a spectacular opera finale. So when Don Giovanni goes to hell, expect to be impressed. Stage director Elise Sandell makes her Madison Opera debut, and many of the actors are performing with the company for the first time. It will be sung in Italian with projected English translation.

Madison Symphony Orchestra

John DeMain, music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, says that balance is everything. "I strive for a combination of familiar with less familiar works by major composers," says DeMain. "I also pick unusual works combined with ones that will ground us, and the result is a season of beautiful and arresting music."

The MSO season begins in Overture Hall on Sept. 21-23 with Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, a gem with all the charm and humor of Haydn. Then Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 will astonish you with its virtuosity. And who does virtuosity better than phenomenal guest artist Garrick Ohlsson? The finale is Stravinsky's seductive Firebird Suite (1945).

The Oct. 12-14 concert opens with Hector Berlioz's Overture to Beatrice and Benedict, a sunny fanfare based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Next, Canadian violinist James Ehnes makes his MSO debut with Bartok's Second Violin Concerto, an edgy work with surprising melodic excursions. Brahms' luxurious Fourth Symphony closes the program with a grand passacaglia.

On Nov. 2-4 the MSO will present two composers we don't hear often on the symphonic stage, Zoltán Kodály and Francis Poulenc. Kodály's Dances of Galánta evokes the sensual nostalgia and wild abandon of dance music from Galánta, a small town in Northern Hungary where the composer grew up. Poulenc's raucous, atmospheric Concerto for Two Pianos will feature crystalline playing by Christina and Michelle Naughton, young twins from Madison. The concert finishes with The Great C Major Symphony, Schubert's late-life magnum opus.

The MSO's Christmas spectacular will help take the chill out of winter on Nov. 30-Dec. 2. Join vocalists Emily Fons, David Portillo, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir for a heartwarming holiday celebration.

The first concert of the new year opens with Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral on Jan. 18-20. This quietly stunning piece premiered in 2000 and commemorates the death of Higdon's younger brother.

Then Gabriela Montero makes her MSO debut with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1. Montero is also a master improviser. Henry Peters, the MSO's marketing director, worked with EMI Records for 24 years and knew Montero from his time there. "After a recital or concert, she would engage with the audience for themes and tunes on which to improvise and then hold them spellbound as she wove brilliant and moving fantasies…. Madison is in for a treat."

Dvorak's Symphony No. 6 closes the concert with some of the composer's most radiant melodies.

Cellist Alban Gerhardt returns Feb. 8-10 with Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante, a musical diary of his life in Stalinist Russia. You will wonder how the cello can survive the onslaught of such powerful bow strokes. Flanking Sinfonia will be Ravel's sensual Rapsodie Espagnole and Beethoven's sunny Fourth Symphony.

The March 8-10 concert features Mozart and a Shostakovich midlife masterpiece. Mozart's Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) is short, sassy and punctuated with percussion. Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major will be in the capable hands of Henning Kraggerud, a Madison favorite who will guide us through the young composer's clear, virtuosic writing. Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony premiered in Leningrad in 1953, the same year that Stalin died. It's introspective but ends on a joyful major chord.

The MSO and Madison Symphony Chorus will present Rachmaninoff's The Bells and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Toward the Unknown Region on April 5-7. These choral masterpieces are based on poems of Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman. But before that, MSO's concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz, will get her chance to shine in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and choral selections from Solomon will add Baroque pageantry. Vocalists Alexandra LoBianco, Harold Meers and Hugh Russell will make this a glorious season finale.

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its Masterworks series in the Overture Center's Capitol Theater on Oct. 5 with works of Mozart, Mendelssohn and American composer Nico Muhly. Guest artists the 5 Browns, a bevy of sibling pianists, will play Mozart's Concerto No. 7 in F Major for Three Pianos and Muhly's The Edge of the World. The Edge is a nocturne-like portrait of Earth. The Overture to Il ré pastore, written by a 19-year-old Mozart, opens the show, and the finale is Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 1 in C Minor.

The WCO and the Festival Choir of Madison will celebrate the winter holidays with a special performance of Handel's Messiah on Dec. 7 at Blackhawk Church in Middleton.

Masterworks continues on Jan. 11 when saxophonist Claude DeLangle returns to the WCO for Fantasia, Op. 630, by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Alexander Glazunov's Concerto for Alto Saxophone in E-flat Major, Op. 109. DeLangle's tone is velvety and a little smoky. Villa-Lobos was a Brazilian composer whose music stirs the imagination. The concert opens with Bizet's capricious Jeux d'enfants and ends with Beethoven's Contradances and Mozart's Symphony No. 31 (Paris).

On Feb. 22, Tasmin Little, the English violinist with a great smile, makes her WCO debut with Gerald Finzi's Introit, Op. 6, and Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 for Violin in G Minor, Op. 63. Little has a graceful sense of line, tasteful portamento and faster-than-fast technique. The concert is bookended with Bach's Suite No. 3 in D Major and Gounod's Second Symphony in E-flat Major.

The March 22 concert features Mozart's Concerto No. 24 for Piano in C Minor and Bruckner's Symphony in D Minor (Nullte). Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott returns for the Mozart, a concerto that feels like Beethoven in the serious C minor opening. Bruckner's D minor symphony of 1869 is written in traditional sonata-allegro form, but has many unusual features for its time, including dissonance and organ-like orchestration.

Vocalist Susanna Phillips returns for the Masterworks finale on April 12 with Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, a collection of earthy folk songs from Auvergne, an agricultural region in central France. Also on the program are two lovely but challenging Mozart arias from 1787. The evening begins with Haydn's Symphony No. 83 (La Poule) and ends with Beethoven's youthful Second Symphony.

The WCO, in partnership with the Overture Center, will present a new pops series called Wisconsin Pops. "This ushers in a new era, one the entire family will enjoy," says Andrew Sewell, the WCO's music director and conductor.

The Wisconsin Pops inaugural season begins on Oct. 6 in Overture Hall with Disney in Concert: Magical Music from the Movies. It's a multimedia concert experience with orchestra, guest soloists, storyboard art and video from famous movie scores like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins and more.

The Middleton Holiday Pops, a longtime favorite here, will showcase vocalist Aaron Thompson for some holiday cheer on Nov. 24-25 at the Madison Marriott West.

In the Wisconsin Pops finale on March 2, Beatlemania star Tony Kishman will croon a tribute to Paul McCartney in Live & Let Die in Overture Hall.

Union Theater highlights

The Wisconsin Union Theater takes a global view of classical music in its 2012-2013 Concert Series. An impressive lineup of young, dynamic musicians coupled with arresting music from the world over will make this a season of discovery and exotic charm. Because of renovations to the Union Theater, all concerts will take place in Mills Hall.

Imani Winds, Sept. 28: Imani is the quintessential 21st-century wind quintet. It blends musical traditions from Europe, America, Africa and Latin America into a distinctive style that is enriching the classical music world as well as wind quintet repertoire.

UW Symphony Orchestra with Joshua Roman, Nov. 10: The soulful young cellist will join the UW Symphony in Dvorjak's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104. Roman is a dynamic player who can toss off Bach's Cello Suites one minute and join experimental hip-hop artist DJ Spooky the next.

The Knights & Wu Man, Feb. 9: Chamber orchestra the Knights and renowned pipa virtuoso Wu Man will take us on a journey to ancient China. The pipa is a pear-shaped string instrument that has been played in China for nearly two thousand years.

Jeremy Denk, April 11: Denk is one of America's most celebrated pianists, a music dynamo who can get to the bottom of complex works like Ligeti etudes and Ives sonatas.

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