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Amid the autumn leaves’ changing colors comes the vivid musical colors of the notes, chords, cadenzas and crescendos of the local classical music scene
It was Victor Hugo who said music expresses that which cannot be put into words and yet cannot remain silent. For many, life without music would be a life considerably less rich. That richness is what classical ensembles in both Milwaukee and Madison provide in abundance.
Here is a look at what some the major performing groups have in store for the coming 2016–17 season.
This month Edo de Waart will enter his eighth and final season as music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, moving on next year to become music director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. From the look of things, his final season will be a most fitting farewell.
MSO offers an unusually rich selection of concerts during its 2016–17 season, performing music from Johannes Brahms to David Bowie, from Handel’s Messiah to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Whether classics, pops, family or special events, MSO concerts this season offer something for everyone.
The season opens with a semi-staged production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (Sept. 17, 18 and 20), which is quickly followed by guest pianist Emanuel Ax playing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 (Sept. 23 and 24) and a special performance by violinist Itzhak Perlman performing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (Sept. 27). And that’s just during the season’s first month.
De Waart conducts nine of this year’s concerts, leaving the podium available for guest conductors, including an impressive lineup of women, including JoAnn Falletta, MSO’s associate conductor from 1985 to 1988; Karina Canellakis, current associate conductor with the Dallas Symphony; and Estonian conductor Anu Tali.
Film music plays a large role this season, leading off with Disney’s Fantasia (Oct. 14–16), Harry Potter (Dec. 15–17) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (Dec. 30–31). The orchestra plays the scores as the films are shown.
The heavy classical lifting takes place under de Waart’s baton. His hands guide performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 (Nov. 19–20), Holst’s The Planets (Feb. 24–26), Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (March 3–4), Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (May 12–13) and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (May 19–20).
For his finale as Milwaukee’s maestro, de Waart conducts the mighty Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler (May 26–28). The composer once said of his work that it was a “symphony so vast that it reflects the whole world. An instrument on which the universe plays.” What better composition to close the maestro’s eight remarkable years?
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performs primarily in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. 414-273-7121; mso.org
The Wisconsin Philharmonic (formerly the Waukesha Symphony Orchestra) has a full schedule of performances under the baton of music director Alexander Platt. The orchestra, now in its 69th season, performs at a variety of venues in Milwaukee’s western suburbs.
The series starts with Olympian Classics (Oct. 9) featuring compositions by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Milwaukee native Michael Torke. Next up is Sensational Cinema, including Max Steiner’s Suite from Gone with the Wind, Bernard Herrmann’s Suite from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and others.
The new year starts with Back to Bach (Feb. 19), featuring MSO violinist Frank Almond and his now infamous Lipinski Stradivarius performing three works by J.S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, the Violin Concerto No. 2 in E and the orchestral Suite No. 3. Almond also performs Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto for good measure.
The orchestra closes its season with Bohemian Rhapsody (April 4), featuring the compositions of Bohemian composers Leoš Janáčcek, Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana. Be sure to Czech that one out.
The Wisconsin Philharmonic performs at various western suburban venues. 262-547-1858; wisphil.org
When it comes to the classical music of the future, it’s obvious that Present Music will have a hand in creating it. The contemporary ensemble performs in a variety of city venues, creating music that’s compelling, sometimes controversial, but always worth experiencing.
The new season has already started with Made in Milwaukee (Sept. 3), performing the work of Cream City natives Michael Torke, Jerome Kitzke and Ryan Carter. Next up is Angst, Horror & Fun (Oct. 21), a collaboration between Present Music and Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre. Projections from classic silent horror films and the Eric Segnitz/John Tanner score created for 1927’s Nosferatu haunt the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The new year begins with the In the Chamber series of concerts (Feb. 16–19) and compositions by the energetic Donnacha Dennehy, the ambitious Texu Kim and the introspective Hannah Lash. Time, Nature, Culture, Sound (April 29) is devoted entirely to “Litany for the Whale” and “Child of Tree” by composer John Cage. It’s performed at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Present Music’s season ends with Boundaries (June 2) and the ensemble goes out of its way to break them with the inclusion of jazz, nonlinear music forms and other experimental works. Pianist Cory Smythe debuts his latest work in a world premiere and jazz sax player and composer Steve Lehman will offer his own String Quartet. There also will be an homage to the Ornette Coleman Quartet and other experimental offerings.
Present Music, which performs at different area venues, is headquartered at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. 414-271-0711; presentmusic.org
The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin’s other MSO, begins its 91st season this fall with 91 performing artists under the baton of music director John DeMain. He’s a former Leonard Bernstein protégé who earned a Grammy Award for his performance of Porgy and Bess while with the Houston Grand Opera. DeMain is considered the country’s leading interpreter of George Gershwin’s 1934 opera.
MSO’s season of nine performances explores classical music’s tried-and-true composers and their works, as well as more contemporary offerings. The season’s kickoff concert, The Planets: An HD Odyssey (Sept. 23–25), lavishly illustrates Gustav Holst’s seven astral tone poems with gorgeous planetary imagery from NASA. George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 and “Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra” from John Corigliano’s score for The Red Violin round out the opening program.
Other season highlights include a program featuring Beethoven’s Pastorale, a performance of the composer’s beloved Sixth Symphony, and guest violinist Henning Kraggerud performing the music of Max Bruch as well as his own composition, “Three Postludes from Equinox” (Oct. 21–23). Beyond the Score: Scheherazade (Jan. 14–15) borrows an approach developed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to dramatize the composition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous work. The performance features American Players Theatre actor James DeVita as the Composer and his wife Brenda DeVita as the Storyteller.
For Ultimate Tchaikovsky, guest pianist Stephen Hough performs Camille Saint-Saëns Concerto No. 5 (The Egyptian) prior to an MSO performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique). The MSO season ends with Brahm’s “Requiem” (May 6–7).
The Madison Symphony Orchestra performs in Overture Hall, 201 State St., Madison. 608-258-4141; madisonsymphony.org
Fresh from six summer Wednesday evenings entertaining tens of thousands on Madison’s Capitol Square, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Andrew Sewell launches its Masterworks series of single concerts starting on Oct. 14. Guest Ilya Kaler performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major.
The Masterworks program continues Jan. 27 with guest artist and guitarist Ana Vidovic performing Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Concert No. 2. Mozart’s Symphony No. 30 in D major and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor bracket Vidovic’s performance.
On Feb. 24, young Milwaukee violinist Julian Rhee joins WCO in performing Brahm’s Violin Concerto in D major, with actor James DeVita returning to the classical music stage to narrate Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale Suite. On March 24, violist and former Madisonian Vicki Powell performs Vaughn Williams’ Suite for viola and chamber orchestra. Other works, including Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” complete the program.
The season closes April 28 with guest artists (and husband and wife) Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn performing “Commissioned Work for Two Pianos and Orchestra” by contemporary composer Tom Cabaniss. Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major round out the
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Masterworks Series takes place at the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. 201 State St., Madison. 608-258-4141; wcoconcerts.org
Early Music Now focuses on “historically informed” music composed before 1800. The award-winning group has a robust upcoming season that begins with a performance by Fretwork titled “In Nomine” at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 8. Next up is the ensemble Sequentia (pictured) presenting “Monks Singing Pages” at 7:30 on Nov. 19 at Wisconsin Lutheran College. The last performance of the year is “A Rose in in Winter,” presented by The Rose Ensemble, on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 at St. Joseph Chapel. For 2017 performances, go to earlymusicnow.org. For tickets, phone 414-225-3113.