Violin-centric at the Basilica
The Milwaukee Symphony will play on this weekend, even with the Milwaukee Ballet’s Dracula up and running in Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, the orchestra’s usual home.
The MSO will open its series at the Basilica of St. Josaphat with a violin-centric progam featuring concertmaster Frank Almond and associate concertmaster Ilana Setapen. The hook: Almond will both play and lead Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons cycle of concertos, from 1723; Setapen will be the soloist in Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), which Piazzolla composed between 1964 and 1970. Hence the marketing handle of “The Eight Seasons.”
Either musician could handle either of these pieces. But anyone who knows the players would have matched Setapen and Almond with the selections they’re playing.
“Yes, everyone’s been saying that,” Setapen said, in an interview after rehearsal Thursday. They’re saying that because Setapen is a fiery, intense player, and no composer of the 20th century put passion foremost like Piazzolla. He grew up playing bandoneon in Buenos Aires tango orchestras, and all the sex and fury of the tango boils in his music. Piazzolla wrote hot music, and Setapen’s a hot player.
“The challenge is to maintain control in music in which you’re supposed to sound out of control. Piazzolla calls for a lot of range, a lot of aggression and sultriness,” she said. “He also uses a lot of effects you don’t usually hear in a concerto. It’s cool to make all these different sounds on the violin. There’s room to experiment. It’s different every day.”
In a separate interview, Almond said that Laurence Tucker (VP/chief program officer) and Mary Ellen Gleason (president/exec. director) came up with the idea for this program. The first thought was to interleave movements of the two concerto. But when they considered logistical problems of seat-changing and the emotional asymmetry of the two works, they decided to perform each piece intact.
Almond will play all four concertos in the cycle and lead the string orchestra while he’s at it, something he’s done several times. Almond will also play the elaborate solo violin part in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 1920 The Lark Ascending, the concert opener. Guest conductor Timothy Myers will be on the podium for Lark Ascending and the Piazzolla concerto.
“The concert has an awful lot of violin, but I think it will be a good concert anyway,” Almond said.
His sense of humor is as dry as his playing is sweet. The Vivaldi cycle has its winter snows and summer thunderstorms, but it’s mostly about the beauty of the violin. Lark Ascending is about nothing other than the beauty of the violin. Almond is known especially for his exquisite sound. And his sound has never been more beautiful than it has been in the last few years, since he got the Lipinski Stradivarius on an open-ended loan from an anonymous source. (That’s the Strad in the display picture on our A&C page.)
Almond, Setapen, Myers and the MSO will perform this program at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28 and 29, and at 4 p.m. Sunday. (Note those times, which differ from the usual MSO start times at Uihlein Hall.) Seating is general admission; tickets are $48. Call the MSO ticket line, 414 291-7605. The Basilica of St. Josaphat is at 2333 S. 6th St., at Lincoln Ave.
Additional Basilica Series MSO events are scheduled for Nov. 18-20 and March 30-31.