Wednesday, June 30, 2004 12:55 PM_

News Menu Button WCO, summer = music Squared

By Kevin Lynch

The downbeat from Director Andrew Sewell comes at 7 tonight.
(Michelle Stocker photo)

It's a delectable summer experience: Tens of thousands of Madisonians sitting around the Capitol Square with fine music washing over them and, often, fine wine washing over their palates.

As the sun sets on the golden statue "Wisconsin" atop the Capitol, the ritual of Concerts on the Square will get under way tonight for the 21st season.

Surely there's an art to "entertaining" with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, just as there is an art is to enlightening audiences during the orchestra's classical concert series in the fall and winter. WCO artistic director and conductor Andrew Sewell's programming of the popular summer concerts has become increasingly rich in recent years, like a fine chef adding subtle ingredients to a recipe that shouldn't be too heavy.

"My approach to programming is that the pendulum can swing either way," Sewell says. "I've tended to start out with familiar works and then pushed the envelope a bit, and then come back to things you would expect. But then the polka concert has incredible musicians. It's not just a pops concert."

Let's take a look at this summer's six programs, which begin tonight at 7 and continue through Aug. 4. Can we detect some desirable enlightenment amid the entertainment?

The season will open with one of the finest short pieces of American classical music ever: Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," with its bracing harmonic power and chest-swelling dose of democratic fervor.

Then there is the first movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's piano Concerto No. 2, to be performed by high school student Christie Naughton of Madison, the winner of the WCO's first annual Statewide Young Artists Concerto competition. The composer is perhaps the most burdened and brooding of Russia's composers. And he's from the 20th century, that era when many cutting-edge composers strayed far from the listener's auditory comfort level.

Tonight's program also features Tchaikovsky's delightfully bombastic "1812" Overture, several patriotic numbers and a very classy literary touch: Wisconsin native Sherry Sarazin will sing a song she composed based upon a poem her grandmother wrote, which became Wisconsin's official state ballad in 2001.

The July 7 program, by contrast, makes little pretense to respectability. Rather it celebrates the state's ethnic heritage and official state dance with a program of polkas, waltzes and marches, performed by virtuoso guest ensemble Sonnenschein Express.

However, on July 14 Sewell will bring out more heavyweight material with the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor performed by Jason Peterson. Also on tap will be the last two movements of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony -- some of the finest musical passages in the classical canon -- as well as the first movement of Mozart's famed Symphony No. 40 in G Minor.

Sewell will also honor his predecessor at the podium, David Lewis Crosby, by performing Crosby's "Sesquicentennial Anniversary Salute."

The July 21 program adds a classy nod to America's indigenous art form, jazz, with local vocalist Gerry DiMaggio and her trio performing some jazz-flavored orchestral numbers, including Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" and Bruno Martino's sublime boss nova tune "Estate."

This concert, by the way, will be broadcast at 6 p.m. the following Saturday on Wisconsin Public Television, thanks to funding from the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission. All the concerts will be again broadcast live on radio station the WMGF Magic 98.

The chamber orchestra will offer two more stellar guest soloists on July 28 with tenor James Doing, the outstanding UW-Madison faculty member, and 17-year-old soprano Hayley Westenra, who will make her U.S. orchestral debut. She has caused a sensation in her native New Zealand with her CD "Pure," a multiple-platinum winner and the fastest-selling debut classical recording in U.K. history. She's already had extremely high-profile appearances, including a performance in front of Queen Elizabeth, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Westenra's program here will include selections from her hit album.

Finally, the Aug. 4 program will celebrate this nation's roots, Sewell says, with an array of classic Americana material, including Leonard Bernstein's "On the Town" program music, Copland's superb "Billy the Kid: Suite," and a medley from Richard Rodgers' beloved musical "Oklahoma."

A highly anticipated sidelight of the concert season will be the release of the Chamber Orchestra's first CD. Called "Close to the Music," it will include Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Arthur Honegger's "Summer Pastorale," Mozart's Symphony No. 35 "Haffner," Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" Suite, and Lilburn's "Four Canzonas." The CD will cost $15 and will be released during the second concert on July 7.

Public support for the summer concerts remains strong, says WCO managing director Robert Sorge, but the chamber orchestra is changing its approach to direct funding appeals. The collection barrels of previous years will be replaced by a raffle for a trip to New York.

"I think it's a more positive message than the barrels," Sorge said. "We have exceeded our annual appeals goal, which is for the classical series, the Halloween concert and everything we do during the year. And we're working on the Concerts on the Square and we're right on track for that, God willing, if the weather stays on our side."


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