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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

The Philharmonic’s Good Things in Small Packages

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When Wolfgang Mozart (1756-91) composed his Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, K. 22 (at the ripe old age of 9), the symphony as a bona fide musical genre was yet in its infancy. Still to come were the great symphonies of Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner, as well, indeed, of Mozart's later years. Mozart's B-Flat Symphony is in the usual fast-slow-fast format—its roots firmly embedded in the rich soil of Baroque overtures and Italian sinfonias.

By the time Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) composed his Symphony No. 4 in G Major some 135 years later, the symphony had evolved considerably. As he was wont to do, Mahler herein saw fit to incorporate south German/Austrian folk music and somewhat rustic elements.

Though composed for large orchestral forces, the work's unprecedented intimacy and serenity lent themselves readily to chamber-sized reduction. Such was undertaken in 1920 by Viennese conductor and musicologist Erwin Stein (1885-1958). Seventy years later, a young Alexander Platt found himself with the unique task of reconstructing and updating Stein's work, which he completed (and conducted the premiere thereof) in London in 1993.

New York-born composer Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960), likewise inspired by Mahler's sublime Fourth Symphony, composed his Simple Songs (1995), with lyrics garnered from ancient religious texts, as an imagined prelude to the work. “Aaron's Simple Songs shares with its older cousin the same sense of profound spiritual serenity,” Maestro Platt explains.

In a concert titled Heavenly Light, Music Director Alexander Platt leads The Philharmonic (joined by soprano Stacey Tappan) in performances of the aforementioned works by Mozart, Mahler and Kernis on Feb. 27 in Victory Chapel of St. John's Northwestern Military Academy, Delafield, and at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Waukesha on March 1.

Opera Happenings

“Casta Diva”

Vogel Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Feb. 25-26

Internationally acclaimed soprano Katarína Vovková will give her first performances in Milwaukee at Vogel Hall. Titled “Casta Diva,” her recital will include well-known arias by Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, Dvorak and other great composers from operas such as Il Trovatore, Aida, La Traviata and Tosca. Baritone Aleksandr Vovk and pianist Matthew Bergey will accompany her.