Festiaval City Symphony, Shostakovich, Haydn
Our other cultural event so far this month was to attend a performance of the Festival City Symphony at the Pabst Theatre, for a program of the 5th Symphony of Dimitri Shostakovich, and the 103rd ("Drum Roll") Symphony of Franz Joseph Haydn. The Festival City Symphony is actually Milwaukee's oldest symphony orchestra, created over 50 years ago as the Milwaukee Civic Symphony Orchestra by the Civic Music Association. However, this was the first time we'd really heard much about the orchestra, and the first time we had attended a performance. The orchestra seems to be a part-time organization, with many of the players having "day jobs" in other fields. Nevertheless, we found their performace to be quite fine, the equal of many other full-time groups, and certainly excellent value for the ticket price.
This Sunday (March 18) there were a large number of Boy and Girl Scout groups in the audience, so we were treated to an abbreviated version of a "young person's guide to the orchestra," pre-performance talk, as members of the sections introduced their instruments and sounds. Conductor Monte Perkins also gave brief introductory remarks before the pieces, which brought out the interesting juxtaposition that although the Shostakovich, with its mild dissonances, sounds modern to most ears, it was in fact a conservative piece for its time, Shostakovich being in a defensive mode after withdrawing his Fourth symphony score before performance, and his second opera, The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, having been savaged by Stalinist critics.
On the other hand, the Haydn, although now part of the classical repetoire, was quite progressive for its day. Haydn, flush with success in his London sojurns, felt free to extend himself, and toyed with such things as the opening tympany roll, allegedly to grab the attention of the notoriously fractious English audiences. This was also one of the first symphonic works to include the clarinet, which is now found in any orchestra.
Both pieces very well done and we enjoyed them unreservedly. The orchestra finished with a seasonal enchore of a nice arrangement of "Danny Boy." We will definitely be looking at the Symphony's future performances.