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Amid personnel shifts, Madison classical groups present adventuresome 2011-2012 seasons
Big changes, ambitious programs

Madison Opera sets Cinderella in 1930s Hollywood. For more photos, click gallery, above.
Credit:Mark Matson
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Continuity in the face of dramatic change is the theme of Madison's big classical groups this season. Amid cuts in state funding and an edgy political climate, they continue their mission to present challenging, enjoyable music for the community. This season reaches into the 21st century with works by John Adams, Philip Glass and Kevin Puts. The work of composers Mark Kopytman and Granville Bantock even borders on world music.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has a new concertmaster, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has a new chorus, and the Madison Opera a new general director. Which is to say, our classical groups are going through some dramatic changes of their own.

Madison Opera

Madison Opera presents three company premieres this season: Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Philip Glass' Galileo Galilei and Rossini's Cinderella. New general director Kathryn Smith has just arrived from the Tacoma Opera, and she gave me her take on what we can expect.

"The season presents an extremely well-rounded view of what opera is," says Smith. "There are three different languages, there's bel canto [Cinderella], which is very different from the Philip Glass opera, and there are three completely different stories." The operas were chosen by former general director Allan Naplan and artistic director John DeMain. Naplan departed for Minnesota Opera earlier this year.

The season opens in Overture Hall on Nov. 4 and 6 with Eugene Onegin, an opera about the old saw that what goes around comes around. Onegin (baritone Hyung Yun) is a young dandy, bored with the parties and social mingling that make up his world. Young Tatiana (soprano Maria Kanyova) falls madly in love with him and arranges a meeting. Onegin shows up only to tell her, not too kindly, that she's wasting her time. Tatiana is crushed. Years later Onegin sees a beautiful woman at a ball and discovers it's Tatiana. This time he falls madly in love with her and asks her to be with him, but it's too late. She's married and says she will remain faithful to her husband.

"Eugene Onegin has amazing orchestral music," says Smith. "It's sweeping, dramatic and lush." And being a Tchaikovsky opera, there's plenty of dancing. Onegin is based on a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin and will be sung in Russian with projected English translations.

The season continues in the Overture Playhouse on Jan. 26-29 with Galileo Galilei, which begins with Galileo as an old man and ends with him as a child, watching an opera composed by his father, Vincenzo. It also visits the warm relationship between Galileo and his daughter, Marie Celeste. The music stays close to its home key, but gives the impression of infinite space. Philip Glass composed Galileo in 2001, and the production celebrates the composer's 75th birthday. The opera features tenor William Joyner in the title role and soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine as Marie Celeste. Baritone John Arnold stars as the young Galileo. Kelly Kuo conducts.

The Cinderella story will have many twists and turns in Rossini's Italian version, La Cenerentola, on April 27 and 29 in Overture Hall. Director Garnett Bruce sets the action in 1930s Hollywood, so it becomes an American coals-to-diamonds story sung in Italian with English supertitles. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack makes her Madison Opera debut in the title role, and tenor Gregory Schmidt stars as her prince.

Madison Symphony Orchestra

With a new concertmaster, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will have a subtly different sound. Canadian, twenty-something violinist Naha Greenholtz, born in Kyoto, Japan, is the successor to longtime concertmaster Tyrone Greive, who announced his retirement last year. Greenholtz begins her first-chair position in Overture Hall on Sept. 16-18, when the MSO starts its season with John Adams' "On the Transmigration of Souls."

At a press lunch in March, John DeMain, the MSO's conductor and music director, talked about this unusual, Pulitzer Prize-winning work. "This is a complex piece for chorus, children's chorus and taped sounds of New York City," said DeMain. "It's very challenging."

"On the Transmigration of Souls" was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002 in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. This year marks the 10th anniversary of this tragedy. Adams' minimalist treatment of massive musical forces is chilling and unforgettable.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 heightens the intensity of this concert, but Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor lightens the mood. Pianist André Watts returns for the concerto.

On Oct. 14-16, the show opens with the overture to Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Then Lynn Harrell returns to the MSO to play Ãdouard Lalo's Cello Concerto in D Minor, composed in 1876. Lalo was French, but the concerto is reminiscent of the German tradition of Beethoven and Haydn. Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 ends this concert with Finnish nationalism. It's sumptuous, but evolves from a simple, three-note motif. Ward Stare conducts.

Violinist Midori takes the stage on Nov. 11-13 with Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich. It swings from unbridled passion in the Nocturne to borderline kitsch in the Burlesque. The MSO highlights Haydn with Symphony No. 104 (London), composed in London in 1795. Haydn eases into the symphony with a reflective adagio that leads into a cheerful allegro. Between the Shostakovich and Haydn is Ravel's "La Valse," composed in 1920. We can hear uneasy memories of World War I as the music swirls from waltz to waltz.

The Christmas Spectacular lights up the season on Dec. 2-4 with soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir. This holiday sing-along has become a Madison tradition and a sure way to bring in the New Year with high spirits and goodwill.

Debussy's "Images No. 2: Iberia" opens the first concert of the new year on Jan. 20-22 with impressions of Spain. Then Augustin Hadelich takes on Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2. The concerto, written in 1935, is more conservative than Prokofiev's earlier works, but there are still plenty of snappy rhythms and shocking tonalities. Hadelich has a powerful technique that's clear and lyrical. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 ("Little Russian") ends this concert with a fanfare of Ukrainian folk tunes.

The March 9-11 concert begins with Brahms' Symphony No. 3, composed in 1883. The symphony is a rousing start to the program. It's passionate and lyrical, and it is the shortest of Brahms' four symphonies. The remainder of the concert is dedicated to dazzling orchestral colors in Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto Andaluz" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol." The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet lends its inventive artistry to "Concierto," and Carl St. Clair conducts.

American composer Kevin Puts wondered how Beethoven composed the joyous first movement of his Seventh Symphony while steeped in depression over his deafness. On March 30-April 1, the MSO presents "Inspiring Beethoven," a 2001 musical answer by Puts.

Beethoven finished his Fourth Piano Concerto, another work on the program, six years before the Seventh Symphony. DeMain likes the concerto's introspective nature. "I've wanted to play this concerto for a long time," he said at the press lunch. "It's been 25 years since the Madison Symphony has performed it." Pianist Philippe Bianconi has the poetry and sparkle this concerto demands. Richard Strauss' mammoth "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life") ends this concert.

The final concert of the season on May 11-13 showcases American music with George Gershwin's "Cuban Overture," "An American in Paris," "Rhapsody in Blue" and excerpts from Porgy and Bess. DeMain conducted the 2002 New York City Opera production of Porgy and Bess that garnered an Emmy nomination, so the musicians should shine under his baton. Pianist Martina Filjak, soprano Laquita Mitchell, baritone Eric Greene and the Madison Symphony Chorus will make this a memorable end to the season.

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's Masterworks season begins on Oct. 7 in Overture Center's Capitol Theater with Elgar, Prokofiev, Copland and Gershwin. The "Serenade for Strings in E minor" is as English as Elgar's meticulous mustache. Prokofiev's youthful work, Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, ranges from nostalgia to gravitas to sarcasm. Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev has sparkling technique and a little mischief in his interpretations. Also on the program are Copland's "Music for the Theatre" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

The chamber orchestra concludes 2011 with the Middleton Holiday Pops concerts, Nov. 26 and 27, and the Dec. 9 performance of Handel's Messiah.

The Masterworks series resumes in 2012, as Douglas Lilburn's delightful "Diversions for String Orchestra" opens the concert on Jan. 13, followed by Boccherini's Baroque/Classical blend, Cello Concerto in B-flat Major. The concerto features cellist Amit Peled. Mark Kopytman's "Kaddish" changes the mood of the concert to elegiac. With Peled's powerful lyricism, "Kaddish" should be breathtaking. The concert closes with Haydn's upbeat Symphony No. 100 in G Major.

The Feb. 24 concert has an unusual combination, Britten and Beethoven. Benjamin Britten's 1935 "Night Mail: End Sequence" has a rap-like insistence. Britten wrote the music and poet W.H. Auden the words for John Grierson's legendary General Post Office Film Unit. American Players Theatre actor James Ridge narrates. Following Britten, Beethoven's emotionally sweeping Violin Concerto in D Major will feature violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky.

Pianist Christopher Taylor brings his innovative style to the WCO stage on March 16 with John Field's Piano Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major. Taylor is professor of piano at the UW-Madison and has distinguished himself as a leading American pianist of our time. The concerto is a foretaste of Chopin's Romantic style by way of Dublin, Ireland. Mendelssohn's "The Hebrides Overture" and Granville Bantock's "Celtic Symphony" for string orchestra and six harps continue the Celtic theme.

The WCO's April 13 concert has themes that Mahler would be proud of - birth, life, death and resurrection - in Gerald Finzi's "Dies Natalis" and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (Choral). Finzi knew life was fragile. He lost his father and three brothers early in life. His music is elegiac, thoughtful, probing. Vocalists Michelle Areyzaga, Jamie Van Eyck, Robert Bracey and Timothy Jones, the Festival Choir and the newly formed Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Chorus will raise the rooftop for this dazzling season finale.

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