A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Feb 20, 2012
08:50 AM
Classically Speaking

One Night, Two Glorious Events

One Night, Two Glorious Events

February has been an uncharacteristically slow month for classical music in Madison, and the calendar might remind us that technically it’s still winter, but regarding February 24 we’d have to say “when it rains, it pours.”

Only because it’s a one-time only event, we’ll start with the appearance at the Union Theater of the piano trio consisting of pianist Wu Han, violinist Philip Setzer and cellist David Finckel. There are few piano trios, no matter how long they have been intact, that can match the unique closeness of these collaborators: Han is the wife and longtime musical partner of Finckel, who has been cellist for more than thirty years with the celebrated Emerson Quartet — of which Setzer is a founding member.

To add to the electricity of the occasion, it was announced just last week that Finckel will be leaving his Emerson colleagues at the end of next season. In addition to his performing duties, he and Han have been co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, co-founders of Music@Menlo, and Finckel founded and still directs ArtistLed, an internet-based, artist-directed recording company.

None of these resume-gilding achievements would have occurred however, without a long track record of superlative artistic results. Friday night gives us the opportunity to experience the trio’s artistry filtered exclusively through the prism of Mendelssohn: the Cello Sonata, Op. 58, and the two trios for piano.

What gives one pause in committing to the Union Theater, is the latest installment of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at the Capitol Theater at 8 p.m. Two of the most glorious works of Beethoven — the Violin Concerto and the Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) — are both richly detailed compositions that are sure to be illuminated in new ways by hearing them in the leaner format of a chamber orchestra setting.

Beethoven’s delicious writing for the woodwinds in the “Pastoral” Symphony should emerge with a greater naturalness, thanks to the reduced size of the string section, and the Violin Concerto…well, all you really need to know is that the soloist is Alexander Sitkovetsky. Still a year short of his thirtieth birthday, it almost seems as if Sitkovetsky is one of the “older” virtuosi who have been with us for awhile — and indeed, he has been making his mark in every major concert hall for well over a decade. His personal commitment to chamber music is another factor that would bode well for hearing a more intimate interpretation of a towering masterpiece such as the Beethoven.

Maestro Andrew Sewell never misses a chance to offer a programming bonus, however, and in this case it’s a rarely heard excerpt from a 1936 British documentary. A collaboration between composer Benjamin Britten and poet W.H. Auden, the poem portion of “Night Mail” will be spoken by James Ridge of American Players Theater. All in all, a must-hear event…unless you have tickets for the Union Theater…

Photo of Philip Setzer, Wu Han, and David Finckel courtesy of Wisconsin Union Theater.

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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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