Rob Gebelhoff

The Return of Frank Almond

Almond and his recovered Stradivarius will be featured as soloist and conductor with the Wisconsin Philharmonic.

By - Feb 20th, 2014 11:37 am
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The Waukesha-based Wisconsin Philharmonic performs at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy of the Philharmonic.

The Waukesha-based Wisconsin Philharmonic performs at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy of the Philharmonic.

Giuseppe Verdi is not generally known for his chamber music, but that doesn’t stop the Wisconsin Philharmonic from celebrating the composer’s bicentennial with his only instrumental work, “String Quartet in E Minor.”

“I believe if Giuseppe Verdi wanted to, he could have sat down and written nine symphonies as good as Beethoven,” says Alexander Platt, music director for the Philharmonic who programmed this concert. “His work is just flawless.”

Arturo Toscanini was so taken with the work that he created an arrangement of it for string orchestra, and that is what the Philharmonic will perform this weekend.  Frank Almond, concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, will perform the lead violin part and also conduct the Philharmonic from the soloist chair in this demanding work. He will also do double duty in all four movements of Antonio Vivaldi’s beloved “The Four Seasons.” The concert, titled Viva Verdi, Viva Vivaldi, will take place at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.

“Frank is doing some beautiful things,” Platt said. “I’m really, really proud of the orchestra and how they’ve stepped up to this challenge. It is complicated having a soloist also conduct, but given Frank’s artistry, when he suggested this, we immediately leapt at it.”

Platt notes it’s been a while since Almond joined the Philharmonic for a performance and that this concert was overdue. The violinist makes his return in a big way, showing off his virtuoso skills with these two challenging pieces.

Verdi’s quartet, especially, is always an audience favorite. Platt says he has had the opportunity to play this piece a few times during his

summer chamber music festival called the Maverick Concerts.

“The crowd always goes nuts because it’s just amazing,” Platt says.

It is interesting, then, that Verdi really only created this piece out of boredom. Verdi — better known for his classic Romantic operas like La Traviata, Rigoletto and Il Trovatore — composed the Quartet in 1873 when the production of his opera Aida was delayed due to the sudden illness of the soprano.

Verdi spent a few days in his hotel room in Naples Italy to produce the four-movement piece, premiering the work at an informal recital.

Verdi commented on the work, saying, “I had (the Quartet) performed one evening in my house, without attaching the least importance to it and without inviting anyone in particular. Only the seven or eight persons who usually come to visit me were present. I don’t know whether the Quartet is beautiful or ugly, but I do know that it’s a quartet!”

Despite this modest beginning, the quartet in time became one of the staple chamber works from the 19th century.

“It’s very humbling actually because you realize what a towering genius Verdi really was,” Platt says.

Frank Almond.

Frank Almond.

The Vivaldi piece, while equally as challenging for a string orchestra, had a very different beginning. “The Four Seasons,” published in 1725, instantly became the priest-composer’s best-known work. It set the standard for future by concertos and today survives as one of the most important works of the Baroque era.

The combination of these two string masterpieces, Platt says, demonstrates the mastery that has accompanied Italian music throughout history. “I’m a little biased because I’m half Italian,” he jokes. “But there are some things that the Italians do innately incredibly well. There’s a reason why most of the great operas were written by Italians.”

From composition to the creation of legendarily fantastic instruments — including Almond’s 1715 Lepinsky Stradivarius — Platt points out that the Italian repertoire is a trove of mysteriously powerful music. This concert seeks to illustrate that mastery, he notes, even if it means including some very difficult works.

“My repertoire style is ambitious,” Platt says, “The whole point of this orchestra is to be a small, distinguished complement to the Milwaukee Symphony … Our aim is to do things on a smaller scale but distinctively. This concert will be a great example of that.”

The concert is at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23. Tickets range from $27-37, with discounts for students and children. They may be purchased through mail-in order form or by calling (262) 547-1858.

Other events coming up:

Transcendent Sibelius by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Jean Sibelius created high-charged, often Romantic music in the post-Romantic era, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will break out its booming timpanists this weekend to prove it.

Guest conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali will join the MSO for its upcoming concert featuring Sibelius’1890 masterpiece “Symphony No. 1 in E Minor,” alongside Carl Nielsen’s “Helios Overture” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major.” Cellist Andreas Brantelid will also be making an appearance for the performance.

The concert will begin at 8 p.m. on Feb. 21 and 22 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $22-$102 and are available at the MSO’s website or by calling (414) 291-7605.

Three concerts by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

The Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra has a busy weekend ahead of itself, with three different concert programs taking place within three days.

The weekend starts off with Flutes and Fanfare, a concert that will feature two flute ensembles: Flute Chorale, Chamber Flute Ensemble and the Prelude Orchestra. The next day, the MYSO will pull out its String Orchestras North and Central and the Chamber Orchestra for its concert, Orchestral Occasion.

The weekend wraps up with a Sunday performance called Symphonic Spectacular featuring Sinfonia and an encore performance by the Chamber Orchestra.

‘Flutes and Fanfare,” 7 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, “Orchestral Occasion” at 6 p.m. on Feb. 22 at the Shattuck Auditorium, and “Symphonic Spectacular” at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23 also at the Shattuck Auditorium. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.

Free concert series by the First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church in Wauwatosa announced its 2014 concert series this week, which will feature local performers of all genres. One more point of interest: The series is free.

The first concert of the series, titled Storytelling Journeys in Music will take place March 2 at 4 p.m. at the church and will feature the Quintet Attacca. For more information, visit the FCC’s website.

0 thoughts on “Classical: The Return of Frank Almond”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Looks like there are MANY great concerts coming up in Milwaukee – thanks for the article!

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