Concerts on the Square Announces That Summer Is Here

WCO’s 33rd season of COS delights most of the 20,000

Since most of my bills get paid by driving school buses, the end of school still feels like the beginning of summer to me. The return of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society lends that same feeling to the music fan in me…but when the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra kicks off another Concerts on the Square season, that’s when I feel like summer is here to stay (well, for a few weeks at least!).

Last Wednesday was that special day, with Andrew Sewell leading the larger than usual WCO, Norman Gilliland adding entertaining comments here and there, and at least 20,000 other folks from far and wide also relishing the return of one of the best of our Madison traditions.

And yes, I was reminded that we get the whole package: not just the music to accompany our picnic suppers, but frequently random conversations to accompany the orchestra (or sometimes bury it).

But first things first. Sewell and the band opened with a breezy Overture to The Barber of Seville, with many auditors happily humming a snippet of tune here and there, as so many of us first heard it courtesy of Bugs Bunny. Then we were treated to a boisterous movement from Turina’s Danzas fantasticas. And to close the first half of the first COS we enjoyed the latest concerto competition winner, pianist Liam Mayo (who was also a Final Forte finalist with the Madison Symphony).

As he had in the Final Forte, Mayo tackled the first and third movements of Mendelssohn’s dazzling Piano Concerto No. 1. On Wednesday we could not witness the visual manifestation of Mayo’s irrepressible joy at the keyboard, but the playing was evidence that he has lost none of his passion. As a bonus we had a stylish encore of a movement for solo piano from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet.

It was after intermission that things turned problematic. Things started out ok with a bouncy “Danzon Cubano” of Copland…but our trip to Italy via Respighi’s The Pines of Rome was problematic at best. As one who has campaigned for an occasional work of more substance (and played uncut) at a Concert on the Square, I applaud Sewell rolling the dice with a 22-minute work that has not been featured in a cartoon. I was prepared to forego any detailed appreciation of the hushed moonlight section, with its liquid clarinet solo and recorded nightingale song (memorably heard at the last Madison Symphony concert May 1). But both the second and third movements contain too many longer stretches of quiet music that, however serviceable the amplification system is (and it is quite good as such things go) could not survive the mild bewilderment and flashes of consternation from many seated nearby. To wit: “I think they’re still playing…I see him [Sewell] still waving his arms around.” Or: “Boy, if they have too many more concerts like this, it won’t be long before they’re drawing about 500 people.”

Well, we all know that isn’t going to happen under any circumstances; but I am forced to admit that on the whole the COS programs are safer with rowdier individual movements, film score excerpts and marches. Which of course are all on the slate in the coming weeks. As for last week, the powerful finale of Pines brought an appreciative roar, and the encore of Sousa’s Liberty Bell triggered another round of humming and whistling…and reminding us that this Wednesday (July 6) we’ll get the patriotic entry of COS. Yes, the cannons for the 1812 Overture will be on hand…try talking over that!

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