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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

Inspired Classics

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Americancomposer John Adams (b. 1947) once stood under the same Minimalist umbrella as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but as the ’90s wore on, he developed into something of a “post-post-modernist,” as demonstrated by such works as The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and the Violin Concerto (1993). From 1992 came the irrepressible Chamber Symphony, for which Adams drew inspiration from two seemingly irreconcilable sources: Arnold Schonberg’s own Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, and the frenzied orchestral music found in old Warner Bros. cartoons. The result, as you might expect, is an adventurous work filled with jazz motifs, musical pyrotechnics and odd harmonies—quite an ingenious blend of Schnberg and Looney Tunes. John Adams’ Chamber Symphony opens the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, under the baton of guest conductor Nicholas McGegan.

Unlike his violin and keyboard concertos, which were largely composed for his own performance, Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) composed all of his wind concertos for others. He acquired an intimate familiarity with wind instruments largely through the leading virtuosos of his day. The last of these is arguably the best—the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, finished just months before his death, inspired by the great clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753-1812).

The standout movement is the central Adagio, with its ethereal orchestration and folksong-like cantilenas; the movement seems tailor-made for the “soft and lovely tone” for which Stadler was renowned. Clarinetist Todd Levy is the soloist in this performance.

For several composers, a first symphony is something of a “graduation” piece and as such is often seen as something less than mature. By the time Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed his first purely orchestral work, however—Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21—he was already 30 years old and his stature as a composer was far more than merely “promising.” Indeed, the C Major Symphony hearkens back to Mozart and Haydn the way Brahms would later hearken back to Beethoven, yet it’s a mature work that is both a fitting farewell to the 18th-century “Classical” sound and a prophecy of profound changes to come in the music of the next century. At Uihlein Hall of the Marcus Center on Jan. 25 and 26.

The UWM Opera Theatre performs The Coronation of Poppea, a work that is among the landmarks of early opera and the first to be based on historical events. Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) masterpiece is given a fully staged production, sung in English, and performed by UWM voice and instrument students.

Ryan Allen, guest bass from the Metropolitan Opera, portrays Seneca. At UWM’s Helen Bader Concert Hall on Jan. 25, 26 and 27.