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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

MSO Delivers High, International Standard

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For perspective, once in a while it is worth stating the obvious: the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, which performed its final classical concert of the season last weekend, is by far the largest performing arts organization in the state. Beyond budget, the MSO consistently delivers a high, international standard, and reaches a large audience in the process. I would argue that the other classical groups in town benefit indirectly from the MSO's presence and educational outreach in identifying and building audience. Its place as the heart and anchor of the arts community in the city cannot be overemphasized. Musicians in Milwaukee solely because they are MSO roster players immeasurably enhance the cultural life of the city as teachers, mentors and performers.

Todd Levy, principal clarinet, displayed a mastery of phrase and tone in Copland's Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra. We would expect nothing less from Levy, who has shown time and again loving care and evolved music-making in everything he performs. Written for Benny Goodman, the concerto has a playful mix of styles, with sudden turns into jazz and occasional Jewish accents.

Im
Sommerwind is a surprising romantic work by Anton von Webern, who became a prominent atonal composer. Though the style is ear-friendly on the surface, Im Sommerwind has abstract, episodic thought in its design. I never thought I would hear lush strings in a Webern work, but such spots emerged and sounded stunning.

I'm not sure the audience needed to hear the complete ballet score to Stravinsky's landmark The Firebird. Normally heard in an orchestral concert suite created by the composer, the complete score has longish stretches that seem rather tedious without presence of dancers on stage. Guest conductor Matthias Pintscher had some clear ideas that came across in the good performance, which was a shade too careful.

Pintscher led his own composition, Ex Nihilo, which he explained attempts to capture and extend a sense of loss of awareness of time and space. Though the composer/conductor now lives in New York, this music sounded thoroughly in the aesthetics of his German homeland. Dark, brooding and full of inventive touches, ultimately it felt like a rather dull trip to nowhere.
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