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Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: More Cowbell!

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The works on the upcoming Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert all stem from the tumultuous 20th century, descending back in time as the program progresses. In 1991, Scottish composer James MacMillan (b. 1959) composed his Sinfonietta which, in MacMillan’s words, consists of a “simple arch-form (that) takes the work from the tranquil to the visceral and back again.” The scoring is percussion-heavy, with triangle, vibraphone, snare drum, suspended cymbal, wood block, glockenspiel, anvil, tubular bells and—Christopher Walken, take note—cowbells!

Cellist Johannes Moser joins conductor Paul Daniel and the MSO in the Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 107 (1959) of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). In stark contrast to MacMillan’s work, this is a lightly scored, fairly somber piece reflecting the repressive hangover the Soviet Union was in just a few years after the Stalin dictatorship.

Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) composed his Symphony No. 4, Op. 29 during World War I, and surely his proximity to the brutality of that unprecedented conflagration influenced the work (with its scoring for two sets of timpani, Nielsen allowed for menacing, artillery barrage-like drum rolling). But this is no work of doom and gloom. He titled it The Inextinguishable, endeavoring herein to express “the elemental Will of Life. Music is Life,” as he explained, “and like it is inextinguishable”—sentiments that certainly must speak to us today as emphatically as they did a century ago.

At Uihlein Hall on Jan. 15 and 16.