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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Challenging & Heroic Works for MSO, Chorus

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The acclaimed Milwaukee Symphony Chorus will be presented with something of a new challenge in the next Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert. With its alternating passages of throbbing minimalist textures and dramatic lyricism, Harmonium for Chorus and Orchestra (1981) by John Adams is a modern choral masterpiece. In Harmonium, Adams sets three poems to music of considerable polyrhythmic variety and "">Negative Love" by John Donne (1572-1631), and "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" and "Wild Nights" by Emily Dickinson (1830-86).

Despite much that has been written to the contrary, the Eroica Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was never intended as a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, though he did plan to dedicate the work to the "First Consul of France" (as Napoleon was then known). But even this plan was scuttled when Napoleon crowned himself emperor on May 18, 1804 (to Beethoven it was a monumental disappointment).

What we are left with in Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) is a symphony of (up till then) unprecedented length, depth and grandeur. The heroic first movement validates the work's subtitle. There follows a funereal second movement, an onrushing scherzo and a glorious finale constituting a full set of variations that displays Beethoven's great felicity—from hymnody to humor, from fugue to dance, from tenderness to majesty.

Edo de Waart leads the MSO and Chorus in both of these works at Uihlein Hall on March 4-5.