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Sounds and Spaces
The Seasonal Six for Nov. 16

"Death Blues" at Alverno Presents.

Sometimes, five just isn't enough. The beginning of the holiday arts season is full of great music in great spaces--and features some thoughtful reflections on the meaning of it all.

#6: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at St. Josaphat’s Basilica.

Why? Because the relatively new MSO series at the Basilica uses one of the city’s most distinctive spaces as a venue for some of the orchestra’s most innovative programming. Assistant Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, who is behind these events, calls this program “Transformation,” writing that they explore the idea of “composer as philosopher,” which each piece suggesting a transformation in states of mind. Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration for example, moves from “self-doubt to peace.” The program also includes music of Ravel, Arvo Paart, and the “Song of Ascent” by Russian Orthodox Bishop Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

#5: Present Music’s “Thanksgiving Concert” at St. John’s Cathedral.

Why? Because it’s one of Milwaukee’s most distinctive holiday traditions. Kevin Stalheim gathers a variety of Milwaukee music groups to perform in one of the city’s most beautiful spaces, and invites the crowd to conclude the festivities with a group dance to the Bucks Native American Singing and Drumming Group. This year, the featured piece is a premiere by Timothy Andres, known for his encyclopedic command of music genres, as well as his interest in visual art and technology as compositional elements.

#4: Early Music Now presents the Alba Consort at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Why? Because with two months of “White Christmas” variations afoot, it might be nice to cleanse your palette with some distinctive sounds that won’t be in heavy rotation on holiday radio. The Alba Consort is a quartet that specializes in European music from the Medieval and Early Renaissance years, and zeroes in on the music of Spain and its surrounding neighbors on the Mediterranean.

#3: It’s a Wonderful Life at Next Act Theatre.

Why? Because you know George Bailey, and you always look forward to getting reacquainted this time of year. But Mary MacDonald Kerr’s adaptation layers the classic Bedford Falls Christmas story with an extra dose of Milwaukee charm. It’s a recreation of a live radio broadcast during a 1950s Milwaukee winter, and you get to know the radio actors as well as the Frank Capra characters they play. Plus, the show features some of Milwaukee’s favorite performers, including Bo Johnson, MacDonald Kerr, Norman Moses, piano-man Jack Forbes Wilson and Next Act Artistic Director David Cecsarini, who also directs the show.

#2: Alverno Presents Death Blues (No Time Like the Present) at the Pitman Theatre.

Why? Because drummer-percussionist extraordinaire Jon Mueller (Collections of Colonies of Bees) has assembled an impressive group of musicians and artists (including dancers, visual artists and chefs) and turned them loose in the cavernous space of the Pitman Theatre, asking them to reflect on the idea of mortality along the way. It’s another one of Alverno Present’s original collaboration/productions, which are among the most innovative and thought-provoking events you’ll find in town—or probably anywhere.

#1: Skylight Theatre’s The Sound of Music at the Broadway Theatre Center.

Why? Because as “favorite things” go, kitten whiskers and raindropped roses are certainly in the running. But in Milwaukee, there’s formidable competition from the likes of Skylight Theater performers like Bill Theisen, Kay Stiefel, David Ferrie, Carol Grief, Doug Jarecki and Flora Coker. They will all be on stage for Skylight’s biggest show ever, as will the headliners, former Milwaukee Rep intern Elizabeth Telford (Maria) and Milwaukee favorite Steve Koehler (Captain Von Trapp). Molly Rhode—speaking of Milwaukee favorites—directs. 

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