A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Jul 13, 2012
03:15 PM
Classically Speaking

Concerts on the Square, Short-Attention-Span Edition

Concerts on the Square, Short-Attention-Span Edition

Maybe it’s the result of the early summer heat wave, or my brain may have slipped back into “serious season” gear, but the July 11 Concerts on the Square event ultimately brought out the curmudgeon in me.

Or maybe I just went into shock when conductor Andrew Sewell started Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the middle of the piece!

I have long been a fan of Sewell’s intriguing, often whimsical programming, and last Wednesday’s program, “Sweeping Soundtracks,” focused principally on film and tv scores. Thus, Miklos Rosza’s “Overture” to Ben-Hur and “Entr’acte” from King of Kings were welcome openers for a pleasantly warm evening in the shadow of the Capitol dome.

And even for someone apparently immune to the spell of Harry Potter (gasp!), a short suite from John Williams’ scores to the films of this saga provided another opportunity to enjoy the colors of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

The main highlight anticipated in advance of the concert was the artistry of Sergei Belkin. Comedian Steve Allen may have said (tongue in cheek?), “Use an accordion, go to jail,” but Belkin immediately won over at least one new fan via the finale of Chaikin’s “Concerto for Accordion.” The first encore was a true delight: One of Dvorak’s movements originally for string quartet and harmonium, here transcribed for accordion and joined by the principal chair strings of the WCO. The usual crowd of thousands was then enjoyed a most lively “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

If one has remained untouched by the Harry Potter craze, one can well believe that I have no firsthand exposure to the tunes of various Xbox and PlayStation games, in this case, a suite of music, arranged by Ralph Ford, that has been running for nearly a decade, “Video Games Live.” There is no artistic quibble here; after all, a large portion of the typical Concerts on the Square audience consists of families with children.

So give the kids (of all ages) their unique ear candy, then let the older ones enjoy Linn’s suite from the BBC series “Downton Abbey,” and the ubuiquitous (thanks to Alfred Hitchcock) “Funeral March of a Marionette.”

But if one ostensibly draws the kids in to hear a live orchestra play the likes of “Myst” et al, why not risk all twenty minutes of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece?
We were denied the beseeching woodwinds in the guise of Friar Laurence, the initial clash and crash of the Montagues and Capulets; instead we were whiisked straight to the love theme. It might as well have been listed in the program as “…and Juliet.”

Ah, but there was time for an encore of John Williams’ theme to the “Superman” films. Next week it’s a Simon and Garfunkel tribute. I’m pretty sure all the songs will be heard from the beginning.

Photo: Sergei Belkin, courtesy of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

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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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