Ralph Stanley. Ahem, DR. Ralph Stanley.
Dr. Ralph Stanley at the Pabst Theatre
Why? Because at the spry age of 86, Ralph Stanley has decided to retire, and this tour marks the last live appearances of a legend of American music. From the Clinch Mountain boys—the band he started with his brother Carter in 1946—through the new generations of popularity with O Brother, Where Art Though, Stanley has kept himself busy with lots of touring and recording. See him one last time before he heads back to Big Spraddle, Virginia.
Yamato Drums at work
Yamato Drums at the Wilson Center
Why? Because these musicians from that little island bring a big noise by hitting big Wadaiko drums. There, in fact, is nothing small about this Japanese drum troupe, which combines athleticism with musicianship for a high-energy evening. It’s the group’s 20th anniversary tour, but don’t expect them to go away any time soon.
The Philomusica String Quartet
Philomusica String Quartet at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
Why? Because you know Beethoven and might even know Cesar Franck. But if you don’t know the Russian composer Lera Auerbach, you should. It’s a small part of this program by the resident string quartet at the WCM, but it will give you a taste of one of the most prolific and wide-ranging composers around. Guest pianist Eli Kalman plays Auerbach’s solo piano suite “Images from Childhood.” And he sticks around to play the monumental and emotionally tumultuous Quintet in F minor by Cesar Franck. The program also includes the first of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” quartets.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at the Cathedral of St. John
Why? Because Francesco Lecce-Chong is fond of innovative, fresh programming, and this non-subscription concert gives him a chance to make interesting connections across the centuries. Here, after paying tribute to Benjamin Britten on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth (with Arvo Part’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten”), he pairs Bach and Bruckner: an orchestral version of a Bach Chaccone and Bruckner’s neglected Sixth Symphony. Not exactly a “chamber concert” as the program series is called, but one worth hearing, nonetheless.
The Milwaukee Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet at the Marcus Center
Why? Because Shakespeare’s tale of doomed lovers is reinvented, it seems, every few years. From West Side Story in the 1950s to Franco Zefferelli’s teen-costume drama in the 60s, to Baz Luhrman’s Venice Beach extravaganze in the 90s, to the recent Broadway version starring Orlando Bloom, it has—as they say in Hollywood—legs. And there are plenty of legs to see in the Milwaukee Ballet’s re-staging of its 2007 production of the story, featuring the great score by Sergei Prokofiev. It’s one of the company’s great works, and is certainly worth seeing again.