Stella Cretek

An Adieu to Delfs

By - Oct 3rd, 2008 02:52 pm
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Twelve years ago when Andreas Delfs became Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, I was assigned to interview him. We met at the Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center), and my hands were shaking as I set up my trusty recorder. In came Maestro Delfs wearing blue jeans with a baby blue sweater draped over his shoulders. He told me he was just an ordinary chap and there was no reason (he could determine) for my trembling digits. I was unprepared when he said one of his favorite singers was Celine Dion. “She has great pipes,” he smiled.

On September 26, 2008 I sat in box M8, waiting for the Sunday matinee to unfurl. The lady sitting next to me said it was her first time ever in a box seat and she felt like she was in heaven. Recalling my first experience in the box seats, I could identify with her thrill. I was there, clad in a formal ball gown and elbow-length white gloves, when the Performing Arts Center opened. Though much has changed in the passing decades (including the interior of Uhlein Hall), the thrill continues. I scanned the stage to see how many of the musicians I’d enjoyed over the years were still around: Roger Ruggeri and Laura Snyder stood beside their bass instruments, Steven Colburn cradled his oboe, and in the horn section, I spyed Bill Barnewitz and Dennis Najoom. Frank Almond, first violinist and Concertmaster, hasn’t been around quite as long, but long enough that I also interviewed him early in his career.

The program opened with The Star Spangled Banner, a patriotic moment when folks rise to the occasion and struggle to recall the words to the tune. Next came Festival Fifty, a lively five minutes written by Maurice Winisky (a principal bassist with the orchestra) to celebrate MSO’s 50th anniversary, and the final season for Maestro Delfs. To my ear, the finest part of the program arrived just before intermission, on the elegant wings of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F Major. The entire event was being recorded for posterity and the forewarned audience (turn off all devices that go beep, bleep and bong) sat rapt in their seats. Fortunately no one was sucking on bottled water, a bad idea that was promoted a few seasons back. My memory returned to Delfs’ debut concert a decade plus ago. It was a moment to remember when the Maestro stopped the music, turned to the crowd and advised them in no uncertain terms to cease and desist their high-tech beeps and bleeps, thus setting the pace for future concerts.

Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 73, and Emperor by Ludwig Van Beethoven wrapped up the afternoon. I’ve never liked this work, but with Andre Watts at the ivories, and the orchestra working their way through Allegro, Adagio, and Rhondo, the Maestro brought it to a finish and brought the crowd to their feet.

During intermission, I strolled the curving hallway outside of the box seat section, and took a few notes on several large paintings, a few of which I recognized as coming from the Milwaukee Art Museum’s contemporary collection. Some are hung rather awkwardly on the curved travertine walls, but the paintings installed on the flatter walls above the atrium serve the interior nicely. The modernist benches in the hallway have been replaced by brown club-style chairs and small drum-shaped tables, the better to seat the aging population who come for the popular Sunday matinees. That said, the chairs, however comfy, do little to enhance the original modernist architecture, nor do the cheesy plastic banners hung on the area’s railings. I have the same gripe when I visit MAM and endure their banner mania, which I hope will go away. Great spaces deserve better.

Attending MSO’s concerts is an experience, and would I notice if the musicians missed a beat? No, I leave that to genuine reviewers of music. My idea of a great afternoon is gathering with others to share in the moment. When Delfs exits at the end of this season, I’ll miss his energetic presence. Naïve to the core, I asked him in that first interview if he ever had nightmares about coming concerts. The answer was affirmative: at times he was indeed bugged by dreams where he’s making his way to the stage and can’t find the correct door. Fortunately for his legion of fans, it was a nightmare unrealized.

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