Milwaukee Musaik Marks 50th Anniversary

Sunday's golden anniversary concert boasts three conductors, a world premiere and works by Mozart and Richard Strauss.

By - Apr 10th, 2024 02:45 pm
Milwaukee Musaik. Photo by Andrea Toussaint.

Milwaukee Musaik. Photo by Andrea Toussaint.

Marking an orchestra’s 50-year anniversary requires more than a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Milwaukee Musaik’s Golden Celebration concert on Sunday, April 14, presents an especially fitting musical tribute to the ensemble’s longevity: “refulgence (2024),” a commissioned composition that, in the words of composer Christian Ellenwood, honors “the origin, growth, and transformation” of the ensemble.

Three conductors will take the podium for Sunday’s commemorative concert: founder Stephen Colburn, the retired Principal Oboist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra who established the group as the Milwaukee Chamber Music Society (later called the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra) in 1973; Richard Hynson, the Music Director of the Bel Canto Chorus who served as Music Director and Conductor of MCO from 2006 to 2014, and Alexander Mandl, who became Music Director in 2015 when the group reorganized as a self-governing consortium and adopted the name Milwaukee Musaik.

Mandl will conduct the world premiere of “refulgence (2024).” Composer Ellenwood, a clarinetist, is a Professor of Music at UW-Whitewater. In musically tracing the birth and evolution of the orchestra, Ellenwood salutes founder Colburn by establishing a dialogue between the oboe and other instruments. The score eventually adds strings and brass, painting the growth of the ensemble and its capabilities. By the end of the piece, Ellenwood said, “the full forces of the ensemble [express] the music of change and transformation.…”

W.A. Mozart’s Divertimento No. 1 in E-flat opens the program, with Colburn directing. Written by Mozart (1756-1791) when he was 16 and last performed in 1976 by the MCO, the piece is “essentially an early miniature symphony,” according to Colburn. Sunday’s performance will combine elements from the original 1771 piece scored for clarinets, horns, and strings, and a 1777 revision scored for oboes, English horns, and bassoons.

Hynson will conduct the ensemble in a work he suggested for the program, Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1 by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). The four movements were inspired by musical material written by Italian composers in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The segments each use a different combination of instruments from the orchestra to better render the color and refinement of each dance. 

A single composition by Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, comprises the second half of the Golden Celebration concert. The “plot” of the suite is drawn from a satirical play written in 1670 by Molière. Combining prose, music, dance, and singing, the play pokes fun at the social climbing and snobbish aristocracy of the times. At the suggestion of his librettist, in 1911 Strauss wrote incidental music for a new adaptation of the play, and composed an opera (Ariadne auf Naxos) to be produced along with the play. Though the four-hour play-plus-opera extravaganza was not a success, the opera (later restructured) became a success and the incidental music performed as a suite is “a masterpiece of orchestration, instrumental virtuosity, charm, and imagination,” Mandl said.

The public is invited to celebrate Milwaukee Musaik’s golden anniversary by attending the concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 14, at Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church, 2366 N. 80th St., Wauwatosa. Tickets are available online. Parking is available in a lot adjacent to the church and on the street.

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