Tom Strini
MSO at Carnegie Hall

That went well

Edo de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony bring out the ring and shimmer. NEW: Link to NY Times review.

By - May 12th, 2012 03:44 pm

The orchestra, (l-r) Edo de Waart, Frank Almond, Ilana Setapen, piba player Wu Man, sopranos Xiaoduo Chen and Meng Meng, zheng player Yang Yi and erhu player Wei-Yang Andy Lin take their bows at Carnegie Hall Friday. TCD photo.

Electrification of the air in the concert hall is the most important thing about the music the Milwaukee Symphony played at Carnegie Hall Friday night, as part of the Spring for Music Festival. Messaien’s Les Offrandes Oubliées, Debussy’s La Mer and Qigang Chen’s Iris dévoilée certainly offer melodies, harmonies and rhythms of interest, but sonority comes first.

All three pieces sounded just fine in Uihlein Hall in MSO subscription concerts over the last two weekends, but they overwhelmed in the brilliant acoustic of one of the greatest concert halls on earth.

At the after-party, the musicians – without exception overjoyed at the way the orchestra played – marveled at the sonic pleasure of playing at Carnegie and the extra dimension it brought to them as players.

Concertmaster Frank Almond had many solos throughout the evening and an amazing very high, very soft duet with erhu player Wei-Yang Andy Lin in Iris. Almond said he barely drew his bow at times, but could feel the softest possible utterance of his violin project into the hall.

“I arrived at 6:30 p.m., I was the first one here,” said cellist Adrien Zitoun. “Just my footsteps, as I walked across the stage in the empty house, ttch tchh tchh… . Just drawing my bow across a string… .” Zitoun mimed the rest, with a graceful sweep of the arm that began as a bow stroke and ended as a symbol of cello sound winging into Carnegie Hall.


Waving the kerchiefs during curtain calls. TCD photo.

Just to be clear, the place is no echo chamber. You don’t hear sound bounce around, you feel the sound all around you. That’s perfect for this music, which is not about following an argument, as with Beethoven or Brahms , but about drinking in heady aromas emanating from a dazzling garden.

Music director Edo de Waart’s imaginative, daring programming showed both Carnegie Hall and the Milwaukee Symphony in the best possible light. The program showed 100 years of French musical lineage in a nutshell, and in the Chen piece showed a hybrid Chinese-inflected strain of the lineage. No other orchestra will come to town with this music, and very few orchestras could play it as well as the MSO. De Waart showed the world a progressive MSO willing to take on very difficult music in its first showcase out-of-town event in more than a decade.

They made it stick. The balance, the intonation, the tuning, the expressive flexibility ran off the charts. De Waart, beaming with delight at the after-party, expressed his pride in his players, perhaps most of all by saying that “they are ready for anything.” Some orchestras would grumble and drag their feet through a piece as off the beaten path as Iris, with its Chinese opera soprano and three Chinese instruments in the mix. This played it eagerly and charged it with energy.

Some 600 well-wishers from Milwaukee accompanied the orchestra to Carnegie and helped to fill the hall to three-quarters or more. All of them were given big red MSO kerchiefs to wave as the orchestra entered, which was hokey, small-town and a lot of fun. (At least they didn’t give them cheeseheads.) Many of the Carnegie ushers tied them into bandanas and wore them as headgear, which was charming.

Here is the link to the New York Times review, which finally ran on May 16 and covers both the MSO and the Nashville Symphony Spring for Music concerts. Michael Huebner, of the Birmingham News, was in town for the Alabama Symphony’s Spring for Music and hung around to hear the MSO. Here’s Huebner’s review. I did run into Russell Platt (an acquaintance), a composer who also writes for The New Yorker. Russell was knocked out by the program and the performance.

That made at least two of us. This was a brilliant concert and a joyous affair.

But don’t take my word for it. WQXR radio, New York, recorded the concert and posted the recording on the station website. Listen here:

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0 thoughts on “MSO at Carnegie Hall: That went well”

  1. Anonymous says:

    We love our orchestra! Bravo MSO!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Alas, no review in the Times–or any other New York media, as far as I can tell.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The NYT takes several days to run reviews; they were there and will most certainly cover it. My guess is that the New Yorker will also; Russell was there, Alex Ross is a huge fan of SFM and wrote a nice piece on the MSO previously.
    Locally, it’s interesting that the JS evidently couldn’t send a critic, but at least they got some nice photos.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The Times review–combining the Milwaukee and Nashville concerts–appeared Wednesday, May 16:

    “Mr. de Waart, no surprise, showed full command here and in the more standard works. And the responsive orchestra shone everywhere, with warm strings, characterful woodwinds and strong brasses.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    I looked at a Synthesia version of this, i thought it couldn’t be done. Today i found out… It can be done.

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