Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Holds ‘A Grand Opening’ With Opening!

This past weekend (October 1 through October 3 2021), the Milwaukee Symphony orchestra opened their 2021/22 season, held a grand opening of their new performance space, the Bradley Symphony Center, and featured a commissioned work, Opening!

So I have two responses to offer today, one on the program and one on the facility. So here’s my take on the program (and music director/conductor Ken-David Masur did a marvelous job putting this opening concert together).

It was wonderful to be back in person in front of a live symphony orchestra. Something that was sorely missed in my life. But the world class (and that’s not just local boy bias) didn’t disappoint with their opening weekend performance. I attended the Sunday October 3rd matinee, the first matinee I’d attended in years but there wasn’t a thing missing. And the orchestra level seating was nearly full!!!

Now as mentioned above, the symphony had commissioned a piece by American composer, Eric Nathan, and he named the piece Opening. So appropriately MSO opened the concert with…Opening! This piece is a joy to ears who enjoy 20th Century classical music. Just a bit of ensemble work, individual solo work, some playful dissonance, and a seeming variation in tempo….plus of course attention holding dynamics. Not unheard of but a bit unusual, Opening features solo instruments distributed around the hall. This provides for some very engaging call and response intervals and solos that used the very lively timbre of the hall effectively. It didn’t work as well when the entire symphony came into play and the solo instruments got a bit lost in the mix…and I was only five seats away from one of the violinists. The notes say “this piece was itself a willful act of hope”. And that emotion was evident as the orchestra played through…and again from the notes: “Opening begins with reverence and closes in celebration”. A much appreciated start for the season!

And then the MSO follows up with the North American premier of James B Wilson‘s Green Fuse. This 10 minute piece for strings is the perfect bookend for Opening. Composed in 2017 by the British born composer, this piece makes use of all of the voices available in a string orchestra. Again we have dynamics, slow to more rapid tempos, solo voices vs. ensemble playing, and just a bit of 20th Century minimalism a bit reminiscent of Steve Reich’s work. Particular interest toward the end when the violins trade voice, timbre, and rhythmic counterpoint with the cellos and basses. I hope that this is programmed again in the near future.

And then we have the piece that most of us were in the hall to hear: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. And to show this rhapsody off properly, Mr. Masur invited Aaron Diehl to perform the piano portion. And oh my goodness, Mr. Diehl provided a far more jazzy rendition than that we are accustomed to…something akin to what I would think Mr. Gershwin intended when he wrote it…and it was simply wonderful! It almost seems like it was purely written with Mr. Diehl in mind. It certainly sparked a renewed interest the piece for me and let me hear it with ‘new ears’. Bravo Mr. Diehl and Mr. Masur!!!

Then after intermission, Mr. Diehl returns with Duke Ellington’s New World A-Comin‘. A bit of a surprise in the program but a perfect vehicle for Mr. Diehl and a engaging foil for Rhapsody in Blue.

Editor’s Note October 8, 2021: I was totally remiss in not mentioning Mr. Diehl’s absolutely delightful solo encore of Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose”. What an incredibly delightful piece that brought out another side of Mr. Ellington and just clearly displayed Mr. Diehl’s mastery of the piano! (thanks to MARIE HOLTYN and AL BARTOSIK at MSO for providing this information)

And then the highlight for me! Igor Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird, 1919 Version). My favorite composer of all time…this piece was just perfectly conducted and played. I went home a very happy camper.

Now…some comments on the symphony’s new home.

It is absolutely beautiful. The art deco features from the original 1930 Warner’s movie palace have been retained and restored. I didn’t have time to explore on Sunday but will make time on my next visit or two.

And the sound is incredible. The Marcus Center certainly favored loud orchestral playing and the Bradley Symphony Center matches it note for note (take the pun anyway you are too…LOL). But the slower tempo and quieter passages at the Bradley are so much clearer and refined and they carry very very well. I was very impressed with that. A major improvement over the way the Marcus treats soft quiet passages.

What I didn’t like was: because the hall expressed the orchestra so incredibly well, the piano got lost at times when playing with the orchestra as opposed to when it is the featured voice. And sometimes more than lost, almost invisible. And with someone as emotional as Mr. Diehl, that was too bad.

Even after having moved the back wall out into 2nd Street by 35 feet, the stage seems shallow and moving the grand piano on and off stage seemed like a bigger chore than in the past.

And the stage seems higher. I had season tickets at the Marcus in row N of the orchestra and was high enough to see into the orchestra a bit. I like to watch the woodwinds because my son is a flute/piccolo player (not with the MSO). But sitting in row Q at the Bradley I found my eyes were at knee level with the cellos. That’s just me and isn’t actually a knock of the hall…I will get tickets further back in the future…so I have to adjust my viewing preferences and ticket selection to suit my whims.

And I picked up my tickets at will call. The MSO may want to rethink the assignment of the three ticket windows just inside the front doors. The today and future windows were less busy but they are the center booth and inner booth while will call was the first one inside. That resulted in that line snaking out onto the sidewalk at their busiest time before the concert.

I didn’t renew my subscription for this season…partly out of anxiety…partly out of concern for how the pandemic will play out this fall and winter…so as I select concerts to attend I can get more familiar with the facility, traffic flow, etc. And I am looking forward to my next visit!!!

Welcome back Ken-David Masur and the exquisite Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra!

Major Milwaukee Area Art Groups Announce Proof of COVID Vaccination or Negative Test Requirements for 2021/2022 Season.

According to an article posted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning, most major Milwaukee area arts groups and presenters will require proof of vaccination against COVID or proof of a negative test for COVID within the previous 72 hours. This policy of course coincides with similar policies being enforced by Summerfest, the Pabst Theater Group, Milwaukee Film, and any number of performers who are currently on tour. The policy will apply to all audience members 12 years and older.

This will impact the touring performances of Hamilton and of course local season offerings like the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s A Christmas Carol and the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker.

The arts organizations who have signed on to the policy include:

  • Black Arts MKE
  • First Stage
  • Florentine Opera
  • Marcus Performing Arts Center
  • Milwaukee Ballet
  • Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
  • Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra
  • Present Music
  • Skylight Music Theatre

“Creating a unified safety policy for our organizations follows the guidance from local and national health experts, and more importantly, it means we’re doing what’s best for our audiences to help reduce their risk of illness while keeping the arts community healthy, safe and protected,” said Milwaukee Rep executive director Chad Bauman in the statement.

Policies on masks are not part of this initiative and will be determined by the individual groups…so audience members should visit each organization’s website for current details or call to get the latest information. And the groups will offer refunds for previously purchased tickets. Contact their box offices for information.

And finally:

“I am grateful our partners have made the tough decisions to protect our residents so we can all enjoy Milwaukee’s performing arts,” said Kirsten Johnson, Milwaukee’s health commissioner.

Update 9/3/2021: I have just received an email from Renaissance Theaterworks that states they too are requiring proof of vaccination or negative tests for all audience members 12 and over, from September 1 through December 31, 2021. They are also requiring all audience members to wear a mask except when eating or drinking at the theater. Again, contact RTW directly if you have any questions.

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Re-imagines Their Season Once Again!

Originally planning to open their 2020/21 season on January 23rd, 2021, additional pandemic induced delays in completing their new performance home has caused the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra to move back opening night to February 6th!

Scott Paulus, Milwaukee Symphony: Allen-Bradley Hall

But there will still be a robust sixteen performance season with twelve classical events and four pops events all performed live in their new Allen-Bradley Hall by socially distanced musicians and available via live stream or on demand viewing to their subscribers.

This looks to be an exciting season despite the disappointment in not being able to celebrate the new season in their new home, the Bradley Symphony Center! This year will be a chance to hear more of our favorite symphony players as they play in smaller ensembles. And because of the smaller ensembles, there will be new pieces that we don’t get to hear regularly and some new composers that will help freshen our experience in classical music. So I am looking forward to see how this season transpires!

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Ken-David Masur

Here is the link to the MSO’s website and the list of concerts for the ‘new’ 2020/21 season. (please note, although each concert has a buy tickets button, single tickets are not available, just subscriptions to the virtual season). This link will allow you to click on each concert to get the full list of pieces being performed. Ken-David Masur is listed as the music director and host for all sixteen concerts.

The live concerts will be performed at 7:30 P.M. on Saturday nights from February 6th, 2021 through June 19th, 2021. Subscription information for the sixteen virtual concerts can be found at this MSO website page.

And don’t worry, there is still a Beethoven Symphony on the schedule! Number 7 to be exact will be the featured closing piece for the last virtual concert on June 19th, 2021.

I am actually looking forward to this. I have really missed live concert performances this past fall and after watching some theater online, I know that the MSO will come through and provide us with a fulfilling experience. But as we go, I would like to hear your thoughts too…so feel free to leave your comments below, at any time during the season. The first time you comment, it won’t show up immediately, so be patient!! Or if you prefer to contact me directly, you can use our email account: contactaip@anintuitiveperspective.com

Scott Paulus, Milwaukee Symphony: Bradley Symphony Center