MSO Mondays Are Pretty Cool. And Free
Great chamber music coming to a Colectivo cafe near you
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has created a pretty cool series to bring classical music into the community. MSO Mondays feature small ensembles of symphony musicians performing at a different Colectivo location once a month to play chamber music. The concerts are free, they provide an intimate setting in which to engage with some of the most talented musicians in our community — and heck, sometimes you want to hear classical music somewhere besides a concert hall.
My first encounter with this series was at the Colectivo location in Mequon, where Schubert’s epic string quintet filled the whole 7 to 8 p.m. slot. That performance showed me the unique magic of classical music in coffee shops. Clinking spoons and steam hissing from the espresso machine grounded the music in the present, while pedestrians passed outside in the light rain. I left knowing I would need to seek more of these concerts out.
This past Monday, violinists Alex Ayers and Paul Hauer (both Wisconsin natives) offered a program of duos at the Bay View Colectivo. I had heard these gentlemen play chamber music before, in a great concert in Appleton as part of the Fox River Chamber Fest, so I was happy to see their continued enthusiasm in reaching out to the community. They set up in a corner of the downstairs area, in front of a window that looked out to the bus stop island at KK and Lincoln. A lighted sign above the bus stop cycled slowly through colors like a mood ring, creating a surprisingly compelling backdrop.
A Mozart duo began the hour. I marveled at the effects generated from the two instruments. It was prime Mozart, with the violins playfully trading phrases back and forth and taking turns with melody and accompaniment. The players’ control of dynamics helped them to create aural illusions of additional voices entering, almost like the missing members of a string quartet. Paul responded to applause after the first movement by mentioning the recent performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony at MSO, where the end of the penultimate movement feels like the end of the piece: “The third movement ends really heroically and everyone goes crazy – and they should!”
Next up was a selection of five pieces from Glière’s 12 Pieces for 2 Violins, Op. 39. Glière was a Russian Romantic, and I enjoyed hearing a more harmonically advanced treatment of this instrumentation right after Mozart. Sometimes the two violins weaved wreaths of fascinating chromatic harmony. Other sections featured the instruments playing the same rhythm together for long stretches, and the duo was very much in sync. The last piece was full of galloping rhythms and bow-bouncing gestures that recalled Tchaikovsky.
Alex announced that the next piece would be Ravel‘s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which he himself had arranged for violin duo. Knowing this music well, I wondered how he could pull this off. But to my surprise and delight, it was a really successful arrangement. The first movement distilled the piece’s lush textures to their essentials, keeping both violins busy with running arpeggio figures. The second movement fugue was serene and felt natural in the two-violin instrumentation. In the Forlane, my favorite movement, I began to hear some compromises in Ravel’s rich chords, and I missed the heft of low-register instruments underpinning a chain of dissonances.
The last two movements of Ravel were sensitively arranged, and idiomatic enough that at times I forgot that this was an arrangement. Alex and Paul followed up with two more short pieces: one of Bartók‘s Romanian Folk Dances and Scott Joplin‘s Ragtime Dance. The latter was pure fun, with a “stop-time” section where the players stomped their feet.
After the music, the emcee of the night mentioned other events featuring MSO musicians in alternate locations “if the symphony hall isn’t your idea of a good time.” Then the musicians took a few questions from audience members, who seemed particularly intrigued by the Ravel. Altogether it was a very satisfying hour of music, especially for free!
Here’s the rest of the MSO Monday season. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.:
March 4 – Colectivo Coffee – Shorewood, 4500 N. Oakland Ave.
April 1 – Colectivo Coffee – Prospect, 2211 N. Prospect Ave.
May 6 – Colectivo Coffee – Lakefront, 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.