The MSO was in very fine form, under the leadership of guest conductor Joseph Silverstein. Silverstein is not a very “showy” conductor: his presence on the podium is very restrained. Nevertheless, it was evident that he and the orchestra had excellent rapport, and everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The Beethoven was the first piece. The 8th is a favorite of both Georgie and myself, and we were very pleased with the reading given. Maestro Silverstein took the tempi, especially in the first movement, just a bit slower than seems fashionable, at least in recent recordings, which was a very good thing given that it allowed the listeners to appreciate how the infectious rhythms interlink and move with one another. The orchestra played beautifully, achieving a resonant, ringing tone that made one surprised the instrumentation called for only two trumpets and two horns in the winds. (The piece is unusually violin-centric, with all of the major themes beginning in that section.)
Bernstein’s Serenade is in six movements, each one related to a section of Plato’s “Symposium,” which consists of a discussion among the philosopher Socrates and his companions about the nature of love. After the precision and energy of the 8th Symphony, I found it hard to retain focus on the less structured music of the Serenade. Dating from 1954, the piece shows us an early form of a structure that later became cliché in “Modern” music: a movement consists of a very meandering, almost meditative theme, punctuated with bouts of tense percussive music. The Symphony’s Concertmaster, Frank Almond, took the soloist duties, and played with great skill and beautiful tone throughout, flawlessly as far as I could tell.
The Sibelius second symphony occupies a middle ground between the two prior pieces: more fluid than Beethoven, more florid than Bernstein. This is scored for a big, Romantic (though not Wagnerian) orchestra, and we had a rich, glorious sound washing over us from the surging beginning theme to the wondrously beautiful final movement. Particularly in the Allegro Moderato, it seemed the very rise and fall of the bows as the theme flowed from section to section evoked the surging of the sea, or a pine forest in a rushing wind. It was a very exhilarating performance, and Georgie was actually speechless for a few minutes after the conclusion.
This performance and others we have seen lately make me realize how fortunate we are here in Milwaukee. Our Opera and Orchestra are first class, and we have lots of excellent theatre and other music as well. We have a beautiful art museum, and if the permanent collection is a bit provincial, they have been getting in some very fine traveling exhibits. We have a fine Zoo, and our natural history museum is still a very nice facility if they can straighten out their funding mess. We still have beautiful safe parks, although they are threatened by out County Executive’s bullheaded approach to taxation. (He has sent a “no tax increase” budget to the County Board every year he has been in office, regardless of cost increases, in a transparent program to make the Board the “bad guys” for raising taxes however slightly.) At least from an aesthetic perspective, Milwaukee is a good place to live.
We also have tickets for the Symphony’s program next weekend, which includes Beethoven’s 9th, which we are greatly looking forward to.