A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Jul 25, 2014
10:50 AMClassically Speaking
Concerts on the Square Delivers Americana With a Twist
PHOTO COURTESY OF WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Another beautiful evening of sights and sounds on the Capitol Square
A glance at Wednesday’s Concert on the Square program—Copland, Gershwin and the finale of the “New World” Symphony—might lead one to think it was July Fourth all over again. We had no “1812 Overture” of course, but Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra not only delivered musical fireworks, but offered up one of the great American classics with an irresistible twist.
The evening opened on a most promising note with Copland’s “An Outdoor Overture” (what better setting than late July on the Square for a work like that?), and not only was the reading bright and breezy, but for some reason the amplified acoustic was the best I’ve yet heard in four summers of COS.
The anticipated (and realized) highlight followed and answered a salient question: How do you jazz up the most iconic of jazzy concert pieces, namely "Rhapsody in Blue"? Just swap the solo piano for marimba, and turn Pius Cheung loose for a bracing surprise. The low notes of Cheung’s marimba emerged with a funky hollowness, and even in a work that never seems to wear out its welcome, the arrangement was revelatory. Sewell and the WCO seemed re-energized by this version as well.
That Cheung pulled this off so convincingly should be no surprise at all. After all, this Chinese-Canadian percussion teacher at the University of Oregon not only recorded Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” for marimba with four mallets, but the New York Times went beyond a review of the CD to write a feature article about Cheung and his envelope-pushing accomplishments. No complaints here about an extra-extended cadenza in the Gershwin Wednesday night, or that I couldn’t catch the name of his scintillating unaccompanied encore.
After intermission the group picked up right where it had left off, with a sassy reading of Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture.” Sewell reminded us what a savvy and creative programmer he is by leading the Finale from “New Dance” of Wallingford Riegger. Riegger is usually a footnote lost in the first half of 20th-century music, but Sewell’s bouncy reading made a strong case for seeking out more of Riegger’s neglected canon.
The night closed with a solid reading of the finale of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, and there was a moment or two one wished for an indoor acoustic to savor the orchestra’s efforts. But no one ever complains about an encore of a Sousa march, the accompaniment to the inevitable folding of chairs and blankets amid the smiles of a Madison midsummer night.
So take note: July 30 is the close of this season of Concerts on the Square, “ShamRocks!” featuring Jeans ‘N Classics with some favorite Irish tunes and a tribute to the music of U2.