Fans of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra turned out in big numbers in 2009-10, Edo de Waart’s first season as music director. They weren’t disappointed; the orchestra played magnificently. Final tallies aren’t in, but word is that the 2010-11 subscription drive has been a great success, as last year’s single-ticket testers become this season’s subscribers.
Some of my musical friends have groused that de Waart has not gone far enough with new music. But when a conductor again and again makes old music sound new, I’m fine with it.
My personal MSO highlights: The premiere of local guy Geoffrey Gordon’s concerto for Megumi Kanda, the MSO’s fabulous principal trombonist, Jan. 14-15; Andreas Delfs’ return May 13-15, in an orchestra/MSO Chorus program with Morten Lauridsen’s gorgeous Lux Aeterna; de Waart’s all-Rachmaninoff program, with superb pianist Joyce Yang, Oct. 8-10; and de Waart’s blockbuster season opener, with Beethoven’s Ninth and Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Adams’ Tromba Lontana, Sept. 24-26.
What a nifty way to bookend the opera season: The Florentine opens Oct. 22-24 with world premiere of Rio de Sangre, by Don Davis — best known as a composer for The Matrix movies. The Skylight Opera Theatre will close with composer Josh Schmidt’s The Adding Machine. Schmidt, a Milwaukeean, has had great success elsewhere. It’s good that his signature piece will finally play here.
The Florentine season looks interesting beyond Rio. Skylight AD Bill Theisen jumps the fence to direct Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers (March 18-20). The company jumps from Uihlein Hall to the Marcus Center’s more intimate Vogel Hall for a Baroque double bill May 13-22.
Present Music gives new music from all over the world great play in Milwaukee. Composers adore Kevin Stalheim’s virtuoso ensemble and open-minded attitude. Stalheim lately has taken a special interest in classically-trained types who merge world, ethnic and pop with high-art techniques. Present Music’s season opener (Saturday, Sept. 18, Turner Hall), for example, includes Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, with DJ Madhatter scratching and spinning the vinyl.
Chamber music abounds here for three big reasons: First, many members of the MSO love to play and have found ways to create opportunities outside the orchestra. Second, members of the music faculty at UWM love to play and have found ways to create opportunities. Third, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music has made itself a very congenial home for chamber music performance.
The Frankly Music series illustrates the first and third points. MSO concertmaster Frank Almond and some community supporters started it from scratch seven years ago. The idea was to combine concerts with little talks about the music and to let Almond’s wit as a speaker shine through. Almond is charming and knowledgeable. The music making, by a combination of local players and Almond’s virtuoso international friends, is world-class. Frankly Music celebrates Schumann and Chopin (200th birthdays) this season, which commences Sept. 27-28 at the conservatory.
The various strands often come together in Chamber Music Milwaukee at UWM. Many of the most dedicated MSO players, notably clarinetist Todd Levy, also teach as adjuncts at UWM. Levy is co-director of CMM, with UWM’s Gregory Flint. Levy’s friends from the orchestra often show up to play on the series. The performance standards are very high, the repertoire is intriguing, and the sense of joyful, collegial music-making is palpable. CMM’s home base is the UWM Zelazo Center, but they’re heading to Brookfield’s Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for this season’s opener, on Sept. 30, before opening at home on Nov. 1.
The MSO also intersects with the Wisconsin Conservatory, especially in the Prometheus Trio (pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Timothy Klabunde, cellist Scott Tisdel) and the Philomusica Quartet (violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, cellist Adrien Zitoun, violist Nathan Hackett). Both groups are very much worth hearing, especially in the conservatory’s vibrant little hall. You can hear the Prometheans tonight (Tuesday, Sept., 14), in the repeat performance of their season opener. Fans of string quartets will have a better chance to hear the Philomusica, now that the group has moved to Monday nights instead of Sunday afternoons and too many conflicts with the Fine Arts Quartet.
The Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, dormant for years and presumed dead, sputtered back to life three years ago and found its legs last season. Music director Richard Hynson and a small core of board members made it happen. Hynson, long-time music director of the Bel Canto Chorus, has grown as a conductor in recent years. He’s gone out of his way to find out-of-the way rep you won’t hear at the MSO. The MCO has found a pleasant Downtown venue in Calvary Church, and you can have a nice glass of wine while you listen. The season opens Sunday, Sept. 19.
Finally, every Milwaukee music fan should know Sharon Hansen’s Milwaukee Choral Artists, comprising 18 or so highly trained female singers. Hardly anyone knows women’s choral rep, so almost everything is new to almost everyone, and there’s more great stuff than you’d think. The MCA is astounding in its virtuosity and flexibility, and Hansen wrings out every ounce of their skill and musicality. Their season opens Oct. 18.
No, I didn’t list everything and everybody in this overview. But here is a links page to help you further explore our town’s arts groups. And be sure to visit our constantly updated performance calendar to keep up to date. You don’t want to miss anything, and TCD is here to help.