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Comfort and revival are in store for us as Madison's classical groups gear up for their 2009-2010 seasons. Like many classical groups, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra are taking a nurturing approach to their audience, offering music to massage frayed nerves and revive our spirits in an uncertain economy. That doesn't mean there won't be novelty and challenge this season, but the overall musical experience will be like the contented sigh at the end of a Mozart phrase.
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
This will be a special Masterworks season for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for two reasons - contract disputes that disrupted last season's concerts are resolved, and the orchestra is also celebrating its 50th anniversary. Andrew Sewell, the WCO's music director and conductor, says that we're in for an adventurous season, from the colorful opening concert to the final program of European masters. All Masterworks concerts will be in the Overture Center's Capitol Theater.
The season opens on Oct. 9 with Ottorino Respighi's "Three Botticelli Pictures," a vivid aural image of Botticelli's pristine paintings. The evening's concerto, Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto in E Minor," features young German violinist Augustin Hadelich, who made his Carnegie Hall debut last year. Hadelich has an indefatigable love for the violin. After he was severely burned in a fire in 1999, he returned to the stage and is establishing himself as a leading virtuoso. Mozart's "Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)" finishes the evening with contrapuntal verve.
On Nov. 14, Sir James Galway returns to the WCO for Jacques Ibert's "Flute Concerto" and J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 4." The "Flute Concerto" is witty with an easygoing, improvisational style. Concertmaster Suzanne Beia and Lady Jeanne Galway will join in to play the "Brandenburg Concerto," scored for two flutes and violin. Aaron Copland's "Three Latin American Sketches" and Stravinsky's "Pulcinella Suite" will add distinctive rhythms to the mix.
An evening of concertos is in store for Jan. 22 with Grazyna Bacewicz's "Concerto for String Orchestra," Joaquín Rodrigo's "Concierto Andaluz" and Alberto Ginastera's "Variaciones Concertantes, Op. 23." Bacewicz's concerto won the Polish State prize in 1950. Her music has incisive rhythms, a baroque feel and a neoclassical penchant for contrast. Rodrigo's sensual "Concierto Andaluz" will feature the popular Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, and individual WCO players will get their chance to shine in 12 short movements of Ginastera's "Variaciones."
The trumpet takes center stage on March 26 when Ryan Anthony plays Tomaso Albinoni's "Concerto St. Marc" and Joseph Haydn's "Trumpet Concerto." We will hear the evolution of the trumpet from the high sounds of the piccolo trumpet in Albinoni's work to the deeper hues of the valve trumpet in Haydn's. The program continues in a Baroque mood with Handel's "Concerto Grosso Op. 6. No. 12 in B Minor," then does an about-face with Shostakovich's "Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a." This is a private, intense work based on the composer's eighth string quartet.
The final Masterworks concert of the season on April 23 has one of my favorite pieces, Johann Nepomuk Hummel's "Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 85." Hummel's name doesn't appear on many concert programs, but after you hear this piano concerto, you will want to hear more. His style is reminiscent of Beethoven and foreshadows Romanticism. Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear returns to the WCO for this titanic work. Richard Strauss' whimsical "Capriccio: Sextet" and Franz Schubert's sobering, enchanting "Symphony No. 9 (The Great)" will add the final touch to the season.
Added attractions to the season are the Halloween concert on Oct. 23 at Mitby Theater, the Holiday Pops concert on Nov. 28-29 at Madison Marriott West and Handel's "Messiah" at Blackhawk Church on Dec. 11. But there are some casualties of the economy. Absent from the schedule this year are the chamber orchestra's "blue jeans" concerts, and the WCO will not perform at Madison Ballet's Nutcracker, which will have taped accompaniment.
The Madison Opera will carry us away to Seville, the Norwegian Sea and a haunted English country house. General director Allan Naplan says the company continues to fulfill its mission to expand repertoire with operas never performed in Madison. To that end, this season will have the company's first staging of a Wagner opera.
The season opens in Overture Hall with Georges Bizet's Carmen on Nov. 6 and 8. When Bizet died in 1875 he was sure that Carmen was a failure. When it premiered in Paris on March 3 of that year, the French audience was offended by its realism. Bizet's music is sultry and bombastic with Spanish flair. Mezzo-soprano Katherine Goeldner will play Carmen, supported by a cast including Adam Diegel, Elizabeth Caballero and Hyung Yun. An opening night fundraising celebration, A Night in Seville, is scheduled for Nov. 6 at the Overture Center.
Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw on Jan. 28-31 will be the opposite of Carmen's realism. Ghosts, mysterious children and their nameless governess will have us wondering what's real and what isn't. Britten's chilling score, based on Henry James' novella, moves in such tiny tonal increments that we will feel the ever-tightening screw, the obsession of the governess to protect the children from evil spirits. Soprano Caroline Worra stars with Madison favorites Gregory Schmidt, Julia Faulkner and Jamie Van Eyck. Soloists of the Madison Youth Choirs will be featured. The opera will be performed in the Overture Center's Playhouse Theater.
Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman comes from the Norwegian Sea to Overture Hall on April 9 and 11. The libretto, written by Wagner, is based on the legend of a Dutch sea captain who is cursed to sail the seas until judgment day unless he finds a woman who will love him faithfully until death. Wagner's music is so vivid we can hear wind whistling over the sea. Soprano Turid Karlsen and bass-baritone Bradley Garvin will star along with Arnold Rawls, Julia Faulkner and Dean Peterson.
Opera previews will be offered in the popular series Opera Up Close and will take place in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Lecture Hall. The Carmen preview is Nov. 1, The Turn of the Screw preview is Jan. 17, and The Flying Dutchman preview is March 28.
For one of the hottest free events of the summer, you can join the Madison Opera for Opera in the Park next week on July 25 at 8 p.m. in Garner Park.
Madison Symphony Orchestra
"Beautiful music with big variety and great power are in store for the audience this season," says John DeMain, the Madison Symphony Orchestra's music director and conductor. "There will also be a lot of pieces by famous composers that we haven't done in my time here."
Two of these pieces appear in the opening concert on Oct. 2-4 in Overture Hall - Beethoven's "The Consecration of the House: Overture" and Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration." Beethoven's overture is stately with fugal fanfare, while Strauss prefers lush resonance. Brahms' passionate "Piano Concerto No. 1" will be the evening's main fare, with legendary pianist Peter Serkin at the keyboard.
On Oct. 23-25 violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg plays Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," a jazzy, vibrant nuevo tango. Mikhail Glinka's overture to Russlan and Ludmilla opens the concert with Russian melodies, and Mahler's "Symphony No. 1" will close it with a unique blend of the profound and the commonplace.
Respighi's "Pines of Rome" was an audience favorite last season, and on Nov. 20-22 we will enjoy its prequel, "Fountains of Rome." Then cellist Ralph Kirschbaum makes his MSO debut with Ernest Bloch's introspective "Schelomo - Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra." Dvorák's dreamy "Silent Woods" follows, and Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 5" will end the concert in a blaze of triumph.
If you love to sing, the Christmas Spectacular on Dec. 4-6 is the place to be. The Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir and world-renowned soprano Sylvia McNair will help ring in a season of glad tidings.
On Feb. 5-7, violinist Pinchas Zukerman plays and conducts Mozart's "Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major" with its sweet adagios and Turkish chic. Cellist Amanda Forsyth, Zukerman's wife, will play Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei," a series of variations based on Jewish themes. The couple will perform together in Saint-Saëns' "The Muse and the Poet," a rhapsodic dialogue for violin and cello. And if you missed Saint-Saëns' powerful "Symphony No. 3 (Organ)" during the opening festivities for Overture Hall in 2004, here's another chance to experience it. The symphony will feature the nimble hands and feet of MSO's principal organist, Samuel Hutchison.
Estonian conductor Anu Tali ascends the MSO podium on Feb. 26-28 to conduct Heino Eller's "Dawn," Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" and Sibelius' "Symphony No. 1." Stephen Hough's luscious tone should be a perfect fit for Tchaikovsky's piano concerto. Sibelius' first symphony is electric. I love its rhythmic audacity and cool landscapes. Anu Tali will be in her element with Eller's tone poem. The Estonian composer was an innovator influenced by 20th-century impressionism.
On March 19-21, Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 25" will have something for everyone - an expansive first movement, a tranquil andante and a triumphant allegretto. Young American pianist Jonathan Biss should give a poetic reading of this masterpiece. Carl Maria von Weber's overture to Oberon and Brahms' charismatic "Serenade No. 1" will offer a Romantic touch to a Classical evening. The MSO will play under the direction of German conductor Patrick Strub.
The season finale on April 16-18 is an all-Russian program. First is Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter Overture," which shifts between unbridled pagan ritual and liturgical sobriety. Then Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" features the brilliant piano playing of Philippe Bianconi. Excerpts from Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov will close out the season with the Madison Symphony Chorus and the clarion voice of bass-baritone Dean Peterson.
This is the comfort season, with most repertoire picks falling within the lush timbres of 1800s Romanticism. Music from the first half of the 20th century comes in second, but most of this will have soft edges. Britten, Bacewicz and Shostakovich will stretch the comfort zone, but won't shatter it. So when the season begins, relax and let the music wash over you.
And on campus...
Fill in your classical calendar with these 2009-10 concerts at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Coming soon: Our full fall preview of events at the Union Theater and Overture Center.
- Oct. 9: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
- Dec. 4: pianist Simone Dinnerstein
- Jan. 22: Emerson String Quartet
- March 13: Eroica Trio
- May 6: male chorus Chanticleer