A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Jan 23, 2012
07:23 AM
Classically Speaking

Madison Symphony Developing a Surprising Tradition

Madison Symphony Developing a Surprising Tradition

What is it about the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violin soloists who deliver performances of Russian concertos that could melt Siberian tundra?

A year ago Henning Kraggerud made the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto freshly compelling; last fall, Midori unleashed a riveting performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. And Saturday night, the young Augustin Hadelich spun the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.2 as effortlessly as one might read through a Mozart concerto.

Born in Italy of German parentage, the 27-year old Hadelich used his surpassing technique and expressive command to make his 1723 Stradivari violin sound as though the concerto had been written just for him.

The 1935 work gave plenty of opportunities for Hadelich to display his dexterity and virtuosity, but what consistently emerged as the most special quality of his playing was the manner in which medium-soft notes, at any speed, all seemed to glow with a real presence that projected easily above the orchestral fabric.

There were times when it seemed as if Hadelich inspired the collective strings of the Madison Symphony to a greater degree of blend and nuance, and John DeMain again found himself working with a soloist keenly attuned to the overall interpretation. This was the MSO’s first performance of the work in the orchestra’s history — and if it was a matter of waiting for Hadelich, the timing could hardly have been more perfect.

Hadelich received a well-deserved ovation, and for any who craved more pure pyrotechnics, he returned for an encore of the Paganini “Caprice No. 24.” The concluding number of the 1819 set of pieces in which Paganini redefined what was possible on the violin is instantly recognizable. Hadelich did not disappoint in any of the high-wire-without-a-net moments — but once more what sticks in the ear are the several occasions in which a seamless attack, the purity of tone, the unexpected subtlety of expression floated from the stage. The man’s business card should simply read: “Augustin Hadelich, Artist.”

For their part, the full orchestra had already demonstrated they had brought their “A” game, opening with a lush and nuanced traversal of Debussy’s Iberia. State Street may still have been in the throes of single-digit temperatures, but inside Overture Hall it was sunny and warm from the first click of the castanets to the last vibrant bow stroke. The last of the three movements seemed at times to provide an aural analogy to the pointillistic paintings of Debussy’s time: a sinewy swirl in the clarinets, strummed pizzicato, the shimmer of cymbal and a snap of the snare drum all overlapped to merge into an evocative whole.

The second half of the evening was marked by a welcome programming choice: Not one of the late Tchaikovsky symphonies, beautiful though they are, but the underappreciated Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”). Nearly all of his major triumphs lay in his future when Tchaikovsky penned this engaging work in 1872, and DeMain and forces illuminated every foreshadowing of those later masterpieces. Highlights included the whimsical energy of the second movement march, and the organ-like sonorities that open and close the finale. It was more than enough to refute any possible suggestions about hibernation in January.

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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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