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MSO Shines Even Brighter in Carnegie Hall

May. 16, 2012
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One week. Six North American orchestras. Such was the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall last week, which featured the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening. The festival, for which orchestras compete by proposed programming and audition recordings, also included ensembles from Alabama, Edmonton, Houston, Nashville and New Jersey. Each of the concerts was broadcast on the New York radio station WQXR. (All the broadcasts may be heard at springformusic.com.) This was the 12th appearance by MSO at Carnegie Hall, and the first in many years. Six hundred supporters from Milwaukee were identifiable by enthusiastically waving orange bandanas created for the event.

Because the players could hear one another very well in the legendary acoustics of the hall, ensemble playing within each section and balance between sections were wonderfully enhanced. Large as it is, Carnegie Hall is intimate and allows subtleties to be clearly heard. I was surprised by the sound of the MSO strings, a section I know more than well, which shone with warm depth not possible at Uihlein Hall.

The theme of Impressionism was presented with chronological progression. La mer (The Sea), by a master of the impressionistic aesthetic, Claude Debussy, emerged with colorful detail and exciting climaxes. Olivier Messiaen, a French successor in the style in some ways, was heard in Les offrandes oubliées (The Forgotten Offerings), meditative contemplation of centuries of aftermath to the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. The relationship to Messiaen was sometimes obvious in his student Qigang Chen's Iris dévoilée (Iris Unveiled), which exotically combines French and Chinese elements in nine movements.

I wanted to hear the MSO in Carnegie Hall for one reason: What does this orchestra sound like in an excellent, flattering acoustic, instead of the bland, non-resonant, multipurpose Uihlein Hall? I know the orchestra is very good, and I have been especially excited at the pronounced rise of sophistication in its sound since Edo de Waart's tenure began in 2009. But acoustics and environment are huge factors in listening to acoustic classical music. Carnegie Hall revealed the MSO to be even a better orchestra than I imagined. By intermission I was hit with unexpected tears, not because of the emotion of the music, but because it was so screamingly apparent what we have been missing in Milwaukee. They were tears of frustration more than anything else. Will this city ever have a concert hall worthy of the MSO? I wonder.


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