Any organization that survives 50 years deserves to celebrate. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra crosses that milestone this season, and kicked off commemorations with a 50th Anniversary Gala last Thursday evening. The unsentimental truth is that at 50 the ensemble is almost certainly at its peak in quality. Its best years are likely yet to come.
Itzhak Perlman was guest artist for the Beethoven Violin Concerto. The audience was excited by his presence, and perhaps did not notice that there was lagging energy in most of Perlman's first movement. His playing woke up in the cadenza at the end of the movement, but it wasn't until the high, pure melodies of the second movement that the performance achieved full expression and elegance.
Andreas Delfs has conducted the MSO in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 one too many times over the years. (Didn't we just hear this last season?) The ensemble has not had much rehearsal yet this season; the first two movements were fuzzy and lackluster. The performance hit a better stride in the third movement, but it was not enough to infuse true freshness into the venture. Delfs, understandably, seemed to be trying different tempos from those taken in previous MSO performances. The symphony was pale and a little listless compared to more memorable Delfs interpretations. The lack of energy even may have spilled into the concerto, which followed the symphony.
Festival Fifty by Maurice Wininsky, a bassist with MSO and a composer, was written especially for the opening concert of the season. The music is reminiscent of John Williams' Olympic theme. It is certainly festive, and does not pretend to be anything more than good cheer, although even at five minutes it seemed to spin out its slim material a little far.