Michele Dall’Ongaro’s La Primavera

Over the past several seasons, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has been including pieces by modern composers in many of their regular subscription concerts. And wisely so. Instead of having a modern music weekend that is poorly attended, they are gradually acclimating their audience to new works. Some of this works very well but sometimes not.

Way back in the day when I owned the Milwaukee record store, On Broadway Plays (on Broadway south of Wisconsin Ave), Thursday was classical music day. I only played classical music and had specials on classical albums. During that time I learned about contemporary and modern composers and ran the gamut from Aaron Copland to Philip Glass…with Steve Reich becoming one of my favorites. So I look forward to finding new music during my MSO subscription concerts.

The MSO featuring Orion Weiss on piano played Michele Dall’Ongaro’s La primavera during the last concert that I was able to attend before the season was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to hear. I had never heard anything by Mr. Dall’Ongaro before…so off we went.

Now this short piece (at under six minutes) is set for piano and string orchestra and is part of a four season suite, each season from a different composer. Mr. Dall’Ongaro wrote La primavera : Spring.

The piece opens very softly with single note piano inserts and plucked strings in return. At first I feared this seeming call and response would yield a tedious and drawn out piece but that thought quickly disappeared as the strings took on a resilient forward flow that draws out the piano and pulls it along. And then they each find their own voices and play off each other, sometimes against each other, and sometimes despite each other. It is an amazingly captivating piece…pulling in points and counterpoints and rhythms familiar to us all but with tones and ideas from contemporary serious music as well without disrupting the feeling…that this is familiar but we’ve never experience quite the like before!

In fact after I got over my initial concern, I totally got lost in the music and was just swept along until we reached the end…and I was so involved that I missed that it had ended and I felt lost because I wanted…felt that I needed more.

Maybe because I was there and became so invested in the experience, that I feel Mr. Weiss and the MSO did a better job of this that the recording I included below. But this recording is phenomenal as well and is the version recommended for listening in the MSO program. Give it a listen and only then read the MSO program notes that I have copied in below.

this ‘video’ is just the photo plus audio

OK, I have copied in the program notes for this piece from the MSO. I think that my experience of this piece may have been limited if I had read this before I heard it. I like to experience new art without too many preconceived notions. But when going back after reading them, it gave me something more to think about! And I hope you enjoyed La primavera as much as I did!

La primavera is set for solo piano and string orchestra. At its outset, pizzicato strings and pointillistic interjections from the piano seem to evoke raindrops, which become ever more frequent. The rain stirs nature to awaken, with perpetual motion from the plucked strings and colorful piano chords and figuration across the whole of the keyboard. Streams of 16th notes from both piano and strings ensue, then portamento strings and more pointillistic pianism tell us that the whole of nature is quivering with new life. Before we even realize it, this delightfully exuberant work seems to end before it even began.

I hope that the MSO’s 2020/21 season will be unaffected by COVID-19 and I am looking forward to their new venue!!

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