The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's Music Director conducts his final set of concerts as the ensemble's leader - plus performances by Wild Space Dance Company, the Bel Canto Chorus, and Skylight Opera's new production of "Sweeney Todd."

May is a month of music, as most theater companies have opened their final shows for the season. And everyone will surely be talking about the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s grand finale, the final three concerts led by Edo de Waart as the orchestra’s music director. (He’ll return as guest conductor next season, of course, and surely in seasons to come.) But don’t let Edo-mania distract you from other concerts this month, including the season finale by the Bel Canto Chorus, entitled Spellbound.

The featured work on this program—May 17 at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall—is Canticle, Kile Smith’s meditative work based on The Spiritual Canticle, a mystical 16th-century poem by St. John of the Cross.

The Bel Canto Chorus.

“There’s something for everybody in this piece,” says Bel Canto Music Director Richard Hynson. “People want to hear a new sound, it’s there. People want to hear accessible music that’s expressive. The poetry is incredibly sensual.”

Hynson has been following Smith’s career for some time, and he jumped at the chance to feature this relatively new work. “I want Milwaukee to hear it,” he says. “Because I think this is an important piece that will actually have an impact beyond these early performances. I think it will be done a lot. I think his music is picking up a lot of interest internationally.”

In addition to Canticle, Bel Canto’s concert will feature work by the Estonian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds.

Here are other May highlights:

Wild Space Dance Company.
Photo by Jessica Kaminski.

Wild Space Dance Company’s Wild at 30

Thirty years and going strong—and wild—Debra Loewen’s Wild Space Dance Company celebrates three decades of beautiful and thought-provoking dance. The work will be both new and old, with several noted alumni from the company on hand to celebrate Loewen and the unique way she sets bodies in motion in space. Next Act Theatre, May 4-6.

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 Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival Showcase

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre showcases the winners of its high school playwriting competition, presenting three one-act plays staged by professional actors and directors. This year, the featured plays tell stories of aging parents, police abuse, and pancake eating contests. Broadway Theatre Center, May 4-7.

Florentine Opera’s The Barber of Seville

The Florentine offers an A-list cast in its once-a-decade revisiting of Rossini’s dazzling comic opera. The leads are a trio of Florentine newcomers, Luis Alejandro Orozco (Figaro), Carol Garcia (Rosina), and Taylor Stayton (Almaviva). But there are some familiar voices as well, including Florentine Opera Studio Artists Thomas Leighton and Leroy Y Davis, and Andrew Wilkowske (Bartolo), who played Figaro in the Skylight Theatre’s 2010 production. Marcus Center, May 5 and 7.

Philomusica String Quartet at Wisconsin Lutheran College

The WLC-based string quartet closes its season with a musical tour through central Europe. The program includes Paysages by Ernest Bloch, the second string quartet of Johannes Brahms, and the first Piano Quintet of Ernö Von Dohnányi. Pianist Eli Kalman joins the quartet for the finale. Schwan Concert Hall, May 8.

Paul Taylor Dance Company performs “Brandenburgs.”
Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Paul Taylor Dance Company at Brookfield’s Wilson Center

Still going strong at 86-years-old, Paul Taylor continues to create new work for his company, but this welcome visit will feature a compendium of greatest hits from his career of over six decades. The program includes the ebullient Brandenburgs, and two narrative works, The Word, about a mysterious figure interloping at a Christian prep school, and Black Tuesday, an evocation of America during the Great Depression. Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, May 12.

Richard Brautigam with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Edo de Waart bids farewell to his role as Music Director of the MSO with a series of three blockbuster concerts, starting with the pairing of two symphonic masters, Beethoven and Sir Edward Elgar. Brautigam is the piano soloist in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, and de Waart concludes the program with Elgar’s exuberant First Symphony. Marcus Center, May 12-13.

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Frankly Music’s Czech It Out!

Somehow, MSO Concertmaster found time amid this month’s daunting MSO schedule to put together the finale of his Frankly Music concert series. This survey of Czech chamber music includes pieces by Bohuslav Martinū, and Leoš Janáček and concludes with Antonín Dvorák’s great “Dumky” Piano Trio. Almond is joined by pianist Adam Neiman, and Robert DeMaine, principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Schwan Concert Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College, May 15.

De Waart conducts Bruckner with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

The MSO pulls out all the stops for Edo de Waart’s penultimate concert, which features Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, the composer’s tribute to his idol, Richard Wagner. The program begins with Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, an emotionally rich “Hebraic Rhapsody” featuring MSO principal cellist, Susan Babini. Marcus Center, May 19-20.

Skylight Theatre’s Sweeney Todd

 “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,” begins Stephen Sondheim’s landmark musical about a murderous barber. And it will be hard not to in the Skylight’s much anticipated production, which features Andrew Varela in the title role.  Broadway Theatre Center, May 19-June 11.

De Waart conducts Mahler with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

To mark his final concert as MSO’s music director, Edo de Waart turns to one of the big kahunas of the orchestra world, Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony. Mahler himself called it “a work that mirrors the whole world,” and the massive musical forces he uses (including 17 brass players) and scale of the work (it clocks in at around 100 minutes), suggest he took that description seriously. An apt farewell for de Waart, who has indeed meant the world for many Milwaukee musicians and music lovers. May 26-28.