A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Aug 26, 2013
02:24 PM
Classically Speaking

Peninsula Music Festival Anchors the Door County Experience

Peninsula Music Festival Anchors the Door County Experience

PHOTO COURTESY ENID BLOCH

JoAnn Falletta

Ok, so I’m an old dog learning new tricks slowly—but I am catching on a little bit quicker: I lived in southern California for seventeen years before I visited Carmel, with or without its vaunted Bach Festival. It only took me a dozen flips of the calendar for me to get up to the Peninsula Music Festival in Fish Creek. Now this was not my first trip; I have lost track of how many times I’d visited those exquisitely quaint communities, the hamlets of fish boils and all things cherried. But I never seemed to be there when the Peninsula Music Festival was in the midst of one its three-week, nine-concert series.

But that all changed last week. I caught not one, not two, but all three of this sixty-first season’s final concerts—now I might have to get up to "the Door" more than once a year.

The Festival has been under the direction of Victor Yampolsky for a number of years, but last Tuesday’s program was guest-conducted by JoAnn Falletta. An associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony back in the 1980s, she has earned a major reputation with her work and recordings with the Buffalo Philharmonic, garnering ten Grammy nominations and a couple of wins along the way.

The program, “Crossing the Channel,” was full of subtleties thanks to three French works, interrupted by a visit via the Scottish Fantasy courtesy of Max Bruch. The opening Suite from Ravel's Mother Goose immediately revealed the PMF orchestra’s gift for nuance and easy response to Falletta’s gentle urgings. Less overtly colorful, but no less moving, was Faure’s Suite from Pelleas et Melisande.

The “channel crossing” was propelled by violinist Caroline Goulding, a pint-sized package of power and passion and fearless technique. At a glance she could pass for about fourteen years of age, but folks said she was twenty—and she handles the violin as if she was already forty. Producing a tone that ranged from seductive to brilliant on her General Kyd Stradivarius, Goulding’s interaction with Falletta was a model of virtuosity placed at the service of artistic expression. A rousing standing ovation—and three sustained curtain calls—did not elicit an encore, but patrons could satisfy their desire to hear more of Goulding by purchasing her acclaimed premiere cd.

Falletta closed the night with a full-blooded romp through one more suite, this from Bizet’s Carmen. My first PMF experience had, if anything, exceeded expectations: The Door County Auditorium is a semi-intimate jewel of a hall, boasting superior acoustics and seating for about 800. In this case, they appeared to be sophisticated patrons (the parking lot was quite full before show time, apprently indicating a large number of pre-concert lecture attendees). As for the orchestra, one’s first impression in stylistically limited, albeit challenging repertoire, was of a group featuring top-notch winds, and strings that produced a sound of flexible sheen. The only question was: How much of this was Falletta, and how much of this was part and parcel of this summertime gig? The answer will come in part in this space tomorrow.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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