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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008

Musical Storytelling

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Throughout his life, literature stoked the fire that burned so brightly in the imagination of French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-69). Yet, while many might assume that it was Lord Byron’s “The Corsair” that inspired his concert overture of the same name, it was actually James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Red Rover (known in France as Le Corsaire Rouge) that did the trick. The next Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert (under guest conductor Ludovic Morlot) opens with Berlioz’s swashbuckling 1851 overture Le Corsaire.

Mention the work formally known as L’Apprenti Sorcier, Scherzo d’Aprs une Ballade de Goethe, by French composer Paul Dukas (1865-1935), and the casual music lover scratches his head in silence. But, describe The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (as it’s known in English) as the MSO does as “a fairytale of the unforgettable Mickey Mouse in the film Fantasia,” and the reaction becomes one of immediate recognition. The 1879 orchestral tour de force was destined to become Dukas’ single unequivocal orchestral hit.

His near contemporary and fellow Frenchman, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), is also known to many by a single piece that made a lasting impression upon moviegoers—Bolro (in the movie 10). Unlike Dukas, Ravel produced numerous popular works. Among the greatest are his ballet scores, the most ambitious being 1912’s classical Greek-inspired Daphnis et Chlo. Normally experienced through one of the two orchestral suites Ravel extracted from the ballet, the MSO—joined by its superb Chorus under Lee Erickson—instead performs Daphnis et Chlo’s entire score.

Finally, the MSO performs a concerto for an instrument rarely showcased for solo performance—the Concertino No. 4 for Trombone & Orchestra in E-Flat Major by German composer Ferdinand David (1810- 73), with trombonist Megumi Kanda taking center stage. Jan. 18-19 at Uihlein Hall of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Milwaukee’s MacDowell Club honors the man who was America’s foremost composer at the beginning of the 20th century, Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), in a concert taking place just three days before the 100th anniversary of his death in New York. Club members and guest artists perform MacDowell’s G Minor Piano Sonata, Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, and George Chadwick’s Five Pieces for Pianoforte. Jan. 20 in the Joan Steele Stein Center at Cardinal Stritch University.