Musical Night on the Town
The Milwaukee Symphony and later, at Via on Downer, the Chris Hanson Band make New Year's Eve a blast.
Andreas Delfs, in a rare and festive mood on New Year’s Eve, cracked up both the big audience and the players in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
He left the podium — and the orchestra to its own devices in Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Radetzky March — to stroll along the apron of the stage and fling glitter over the patrons in the first few rows. Before he led Franz von Suppé’s overture to Light Cavalry, he related the story of the operetta — which is not what you think. The title of the ribald farce refers not to horse soldiers, but to a randy female corps de ballet that invades the imperial palace and causes a scandal.
Delfs also discoursed on the composer’s name, starting with the observation that Franz Suppe translates as “Frank Soup.” Delfs’ professorial earnestness (“It’s all true, you can look it up”) made his increasingly outrageous music-history whoppers all the funnier. No, von Suppé (born Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere di Suppé-Demelli) did not change his name to Francesco Minestrone.
Finally, by way of introducing Ravel’s Tzigane, Delfs launched a surreal, hilarious flight of fancy involving soloist/concertmaster Frank Almond as a shirtless gypsy fiddling furiously as a campfire illuminates his “chiseled physique.” The musicians got a kick out of that one. I saw Delfs briefly after the concert, and he suggested that it might not be necessary to share all of his hijinks. Please, Andreas — I have journalistic ethics to maintain.
Musically, this concert of gypsy-inflected Viennese (and in the case of Ravel, French) charmers was as as energetic, sharp and amusing as Delfs was. He conducted a handful of Brahms’ Hungarian dances and a collection of Strauss, Jr., waltzes, marches and polkas flamboyantly, exaggerating the fermatas, bending and stretching the lyrical bits and charging through the allegros. He gave extra bounce to the buoyant dance impulse essential to this music. These performances as much about playing with the music as playing the music. Delfs had fun with it, and so did we all. Despite the clowning leading up to Tzigane, a burning intensity took over when Delfs, Almond and the MSO finally played it.
The MSO’s Laura Snyder put down her bass and stepped up to the microphone to give a soulful solo account of “Auld Lang Syne.” Then the big crowd and orchestra joined in. Before anyone could leave, Delfs launched an instant encore: “On Wisconsin,” a sure-fire winner with a crowd dotted with red Badger wear the night before the Rose Bowl.
After the concert, I moved on to Via on Downer to hear the Chris Hanson Band play in the New Year. I wasn’t the only one; MSO violinist and Hanson band stalwart Glenn Asch dashed over, too, and at least five MSO players came to party.
Robin Pluer is singing with the band now that young Rae Cassidy has moved to New York. This was my first opportunity to hear Pluer, a superb cabaret singer, with this band. Hanson and his mates frame her beautifully. She complements them perfectly and brings a theatrical dimension to this excellent jazz string band.
A big, lively, friendly Via crowd of a wide age range cheered Pluer and every instrumental solo. Like the MSO crowd, they joined in a rousing “Auld Lang Syne” as 2012 ended and 2013 began.
Music made this a very happy New Year’s Eve in Milwaukee.