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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blessed by Brahms

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After reading through the score of a brand-new work by a friend and fellow composer, the semiretired Johannes Brahms remarked: “Why on Earth didn’t I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? Had I known, I would have written one long ago.” High praise, indeed, from a man notoriously parsimonious with praise for his contemporary composers.

The work Brahms spoke of was the Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104, by Czech composer Antonn Dvork (1841-1904). Dvork labored on such a concerto relatively early in his career, before ultimately discarding it. It would not be until 1885—after he had completed all nine of his symphonies and countless other works—that he would produce the B Minor concerto. The result is not what one would describe as a virtuosic piece for the cello (though the soloist’s part is quite demanding). Rather, it’s a work in which the instrumental soloist and the rest of the orchestra form an integral whole, seamlessly and gorgeously blending their sounds throughout the lengthy, three-movement work.

The Concord Chamber Orchestra (CCO) welcomes 19-yearold cellist Hans Goldstein from East Troy, winner of the MSO League’s Concerto Competition, for a performance of Dvork’s Cello Concerto. Goldstein, despite his age, is no novice, already having won numerous prizes in the United States and Norway (the home of his ancestors).

To mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Norway’s Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), the CCO performs the Overture from the incidental music he composed to Peer Gynt, which happens to mesh well with young Goldstein’s ethnic heritage.

Peer Gynt, Op. 23, comprises a series of small works meant to musically describe scenes and events from the play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen. Grieg’s charming, evocative music has made it a worldwide hit ever since the composition premiered in 1885. Many 20th-century composers dabbled in film scores, even quite prominent ones such as Britain’s Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Among Williams’ 11 such scores was one he wrote to 1948’s Scott of the Antarctic, which told the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole. Finding great inspiration in the subject matter, Vaughan Williams decided to further flesh out the film score; the result being 1952’s Sinfonia Antarctica, a five-movement concert suite for large orchestra, soprano, women’s chorus, organ and wind machine. This and the aforementioned Dvork and Grieg works will be performed by the Concord Chamber Orchestra on March 8 at St. Matthew’s Church in Wauwatosa.

On March 6-9 Present Music combines forces with Milwaukee Dance Theatre for Antigone, a retelling of the classical Greek tale set to music, dialogue and movement at Milwaukee’s Off-Broadway Theatre. Eric Segnitz, composer and Present Music’s core violinist, says the upcoming event is “part of Present Music’s mission to explore how new music intersects with other art forms and cultures in a relevant, contemporary way.”