Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra could only give its new home, the Bradley Symphony Center, the sweetest of soft launches last season, performing smaller ensemble concerts for cameras video and a limited and socially distant audience.
Thus, musical director Ken-David Masur approaches the first performances of the new season from October 1 to 3 for potentially packed venues with a pent-up desire to celebrate both the new concert hall and the orchestra he is conducting.
âIt’s an amazing venue, one of the largest concert halls in North America,â he said of the new home. “The fact that we have it here is just a huge gift.”
The MSO spent $ 90 million to convert the former Warner Grand Theater at 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. in his concert venue, believing that controlling his schedule and maximizing the number of dates in his main hall are essential to his survival.
Reiterating a point that MSO President Mark Niehaus often makes, Masur said that the interior decor of the old cinema, with its variety of surfaces and shapes, enhances the sound of the concert in a way that flat and square walled room does not. In his mind, the Allen-Bradley Hall resonance offers a potentially greater dynamic range, with both weaker sounds and louder sounds possible.
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The new hall fills the Leipzig-born conductor with Spielfreude, which can be translated as “the joy of playing” or “the enthusiasm”.
During the unusual last season, as orchestral musicians adjusted to strict COVID-19 protocols and the less familiar small ensemble repertoire, Masur admired both their musical skills and courage.
âI learned how passionate they are about their job, how resilient they are,â he said.
‘Blossoming’ with world premiere, new artistic partner
Masur used the word âbloomâ to describe both the concert hall and the season ahead. The opening program he designed for October 1-3 reflects this metaphor with “New World A-Comin ‘” by Duke Ellington and “Green Fuse” by James B. Wilson. (The programming of music by Ellington and British black composer Wilson also reflects the OSM’s increased commitment to performing works by composers of color.)
Pianist Aaron Diehl will perform both Ellington’s work and Gershwin’s popular “Rhapsody in Blue”. Diehl will serve as MSO’s designated artistic partner this season, not only returning to perform in February, but also playing a post-show jazz session on this return visit, as well as giving master classes and interacting with the community. .
Masur also commissioned composer Eric Nathan to create a new work, “Opening”, to show the concert hall to both locals and the PBS national audience. (The October 2 performance will be broadcast live by Milwaukee PBS, with the nationwide network picking up the recording for later airing.)
The composer, who is also an associate professor of music at Brown University, traveled to Milwaukee to see and hear the space, and also attended numerous MSO video concerts last season.
“Opening” begins with a few musicians stationed at various places around the hall. Often when composers take musicians off the stage, Nathan said in an interview with Zoom, they will use brass, as Respighi does in “The Pines of Rome.” But Nathan chose the woods. âThere’s this very delicate callâ¦ everyone has to be incredibly quiet to hear those delicate lines,â he said. Over the course of “Opening”, the musicians’ bodies gradually come together in their fullness.
Nathan does something else in “Opening” that might surprise viewers. In a segment, its composition requires each string player to perform as a soloist (rather than bowing in unison as Sections are typically asked to do).
âAnd it works,â he said. “It’s that beautiful kind of bloom, almost like a tree with all the branches.”
Beyond sound, it also creates a visual component, he said. âYou see everyone moving their arches at different rates (and thinking), ‘Oh, that’s a bunch of individual people up there and wow, there’s 60 moving and there’s a lot of people over there. scene.’ So I hope that this can put us in tune with the different dynamics of the orchestra. ”
Souls hungry for music
Reflecting on what it means to perform in front of a live audience again after over a year of pandemic strain, Masur thought of “something my dad told me early on that I never really got to. understand so far, “he wrote in a follow-up email.
His father Kurt (1927-2015), who would go on to become an internationally renowned conductor, was a 16-year-old music student when he enlisted in the German army in 1944.
After World War II, Ken-David Masur wrote, his father and his musician friends were so hungry for food that they played “concerts for a loaf of bread the band would share.”
But, added the son, âthey were much hungrier for music, for their souls were completely hungry.
“Every note I hear from the introspective music of the great masters of old to the deeply exploratory music of today” is deeply nourishing, he wrote.
“It is truly an everlasting resource for revealing truths about us and where we have been placed.”
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
Music Director Ken-David Masur and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform at 7:30 p.m. on October 1, 7:30 p.m. on October 2, and 2:30 p.m. on October 3 at the Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. Proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test required. Masks strongly encouraged. For info and tickets, visit mso.org or dial (414) 291-7605.