Music from Baroque to Bassoon

It’s a big week for the classics—as many groups get some serious music out of their system before the holiday season starts in with its carols and “Messiahs.” Those looking for more literary or comedy weekend might want to add a few other events to their list. The SE Wisconsin Festival of Books features readings and talks by a wide range of authors, including Mark Wisniewski, Kelly Cherry, Martha Bergland, Dasha Kelly, Michael Perry, and Angela Sorby. Soulstice Theatre digs into Ken Ludwig’s farcical comedy, Moon Over Buffalo, and The Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices get a bit theatrical with In Good…

It’s a big week for the classics—as many groups get some serious music out of their system before the holiday season starts in with its carols and “Messiahs.” Those looking for more literary or comedy weekend might want to add a few other events to their list. The SE Wisconsin Festival of Books features readings and talks by a wide range of authors, including Mark Wisniewski, Kelly Cherry, Martha Bergland, Dasha Kelly, Michael Perry, and Angela Sorby. Soulstice Theatre digs into Ken Ludwig’s farcical comedy, Moon Over Buffalo, and The Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices get a bit theatrical with In Good Company, a exploration of songs and stories created and lived during times of war.

#5: The Fine Arts Quartet at UW-Milwaukee’s Zelazo Center.

Why? Because it’s a program that spans a couple of centuries, but even that hardly captures the wide variety of musical styles here. First there’s the elegant classicism of Haydn. Then the rigorous purity of Philip Glass. And finally, the hot-blooded modernism of Efram Podgaits, a Russian composer who likes to occasionally incorporate folk instruments into his work. His “Ex Animo (Quintet for String Quartet and Bayan),” was commissioned by the FAQ in 2002, and is played here by the quartet and accordionist Maria Vlasova.

#4: Liberace at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.

Why? Because Jack Forbes Wilson is back at the Stackner Cabaret piano again, and he’s got rings on his fingers and sequins on his lapels. All the better to play West Allis’s favorite piano son, Władziu Valentino Liberace. The Rep brings back Brent Hazelton’s dazzling and touching one-person show that took the Stackner by storm two years ago. As before, it features stories, anecdotes and some of the great piano star turns by the talented and enigmatic musician. You’ve never heard a “Chopsticks” like Liberace’s “Chopsticks.”


#3: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra plays Mussorgsky at the Marcus Center.

Why? Because everyone can hum some of the tunes from Modest Mussorgsky’s tone-poem homage to his artist friend, Viktor Hartmann. But it’s not often we get to hear these melodies live, goosed by Maurice Ravel’s orchestrations and performed by the MSO’s impeccable brass and woodwind sections. For those looking beyond the headlining war horse, no worries. There are other composers’ musical tributes to admired artists. Like Prokofiev’s symphonic homage to Haydn (the “Classical” Symphony), and Gunther Schuller’s “Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee.” And a brand spanking new work by Marc Neikrug, a Bassoon concerto, commissioned by the MSO along with several other orchestras, and here played by the MSO’s own Ted Soluri. The Oregon Symphony’s Carlos Kalman conducts.

#2: Early Music Now presents Quicksilver at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Why? Because you may go for the Baroque, but this early music ensemble wants you to think about 17th-century music a little differently. In two separate programs that explore the music of that era, the seven musicians of Quicksilver explore the origins of chamber music—what did it mean, in other words, for music to be just music, rather than accompaniment for dancing, workshop or the theater. As usual with EMN concerts, there’s a wide-ranging program with accompanying program notes and scholarship. But for those who simply want to listen, there are riches and joys aplenty.

#1: Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Lucy at 10th Street Theatre.

Why? Because opera rocks (and we’re not talking Jesus Christ Superstar, here), especially in the hands of Milwaukee Opera Theatre. Last year, they gave us Guns N’ Rosenkavalier, a heavenly mash-up of rock ‘n’ roll and art song. And now, composer John Glover, baritone Andrew Wilkowske and MOT’s Jill Anna Ponasik are behind a world premiere chamber opera that has been years in the making. Lucy is a chimpanzee “adopted” by psychologist Maurice Temerlin and raised as a part of his human family. Glover and librettist Kelley Rourke have turned the story in to a touching and lyrical music drama which Wilkowski will sing with the chamber group, REDSHIFT. See an excerpt here. But don’t miss the complete work this weekend.

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Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.