Musical Americana Sunday in Milwaukee
The odds of two musical ensembles presenting, on the same day and at the same time, all-American concerts featuring living composers are slimmer than slim. But exactly that is happening at 3 p.m. Sunday (March 13).
At that time, the Bel Canto Chorus and guests will start Remembrance: Legacy of the Civil War, at Christ King Parish, 2604 N. Swan Blvd., to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of that conflict. (Tickets are $20 and $25; click here for more info or call 414 481-8801.) And the Festival City Symphony will start its American Tales Told through Music program at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. (Festival City tickets are $14 for adults and $8 for children, seniors, and students at the Pabst Theater box office, 414 286-3663).
The Baptist College of Ministry Concert Chorale, of Menomonee Falls, and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra will join the BCC on this program. Music director Richard Hynson will conduct. Kentucky composer Joseph Baber will come to Milwaukee to hear them play his An American Requiem, an elegiac take on the war. Composer Daniel Van Gelderen, 23, won’t have to travel quite so far to hear the premiere of his Remembrance. Van Gelderen is also conductor of the Ministry Concert Chorale.
Hynson connected with him through his wife, Michelle Hynson. She teaches singing, and several members of the chorale studied with her.
“The college is primarily the creation of the Van Gelderen family,” Richard Hynson said, in an interview Friday. “They have a very strong belief in the importance of music as spiritual expression. Everybody there is involved in music. And they’re amazingly good.”
The 35-voice Ministry Chorale tours and makes CDs. Hynson heard some of Daniel Van Gelderen’s music on disc, and the two got to talking.
The result is a 17-minute work loaded with illustrative orchestral music and based on three poems, including Herman Melville’s climactic Gettysburg.
Hynson’s foil for the two newer pieces is Dudley Buck‘s Festival Overture on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” composed right after the war as a virtuoso organ piece. At the end, the audience is supposed to join in the National Anthem. Buck orchestrated the piece in the 1870s, and Hynson will conduct that version.
“America was desperate to get past the war and reconstruct,” Hynson said. “It’s frothy and flashy.”
The idea was that everyone joining in the anthem at the end would help get the country beyond the Civil War. On the Bel Canto program, Baber’s sombre setting of soldier’s letters home and war memoirs will follow the Festival Overture.
“There are no heroes in the Baber piece, no generals, no Lincoln,” Hynson said. “The chorus stands for the American people, the soldiers and those they left behind. Baber deals with the horror of war, the aftermath of battle. Buck was trying to get past the war. Baber shows that you can’t.”
Music director Monte Perkins will show the lighter side of Americana on his Festival City program, which comprises Virgil Thomson’s Louisiana Story, a suite from his music for Robert Flaherty’s 1948 documentary film; Douglas Moore’s Pageant of P.T. Barnum, about the life of America’s great showman; and Nathaniel Stookey’s The Composer Is Dead, a mystery involving a narrator-detective who grills individual instruments in the orchestra in order to solve the crime. Daniel Mooney, the well-known Milwaukee actor, will narrate.
“The book comes with a CD, so you could read it to your kid and play the musical examples,” Perkins said, in a separate interview Friday.
It should be a good fit for the Festival City audience. The orchestra’s family-friendly, low-cost concerts draw a lot of kids. Perkins is expecting 350 Girl Scouts Sunday.
“The Composer Is Dead is a little like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,” Perkins said. “The instruments are characters in the story.”
Story counts, here. Perkins sought out music that tells a story for this program.
“Thomson’s is still the only film score to win a Pulitzer Prize in music,” Perkins said. “I’m a fan of Virgil Thomson’s music. It’s straightforward, simple and approachable.
“I found Pageant of P.T. Barnum a few years ago, when we were thinking of playing a concert in Washington Park for the Circus Parade. That fell through, but I was waiting for the right time. This is it.
“I believe in American music and we play a lot of it. I’m glad we can bring these pieces to Milwaukee.”