The Madison Symphony Orchestra completes its 2013-14 season this weekend with a lighthearted semi-pops concert at Overture Hall featuring music by George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Harold Arlen.
After last weekend's Madison Opera production of "Dead Man Walking," we were ready for a happier touch.
It’s not that the music is easier; the orchestra was put through its paces all evening long. And it's not that the subject matter was all that much more cheerful -- Bernstein's "West Side Story," after all is a retelling of "Romeo and Juliet."
But the music was familiar to us; the guest artists were young and kind of local; and artists, orchestra and Music Director John DeMain all seemed to be having a wonderful time.
I was particularly taken with Garrick Olsen, a young Madison native (he starts Oberlin College in the fall), who won the 2012 Bolz Young Artist competition of the MSO.
He played variation of "I've Got Rhythm" and, for an encore, "Embraceable You." He played them very, very well. He is an accomplished performer, perhaps not quite yet an "artist" -- but I suspect he hasn’t yet reached the peak of his ability.
He’s also fun to watch. For Friday's performance he wore a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie and black canvass sneakers. He has an amazing head of red hair that he has to brush back or toss back periodically to keep it from falling over his face.
Soprano Emily Birsan, who earned a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sang a happy rendition of "By Strauss" and pulled DeMain off the podium briefly to join her in a waltz.
Mezzo Soprano Karen Olivo – who lives here but is best known for television, stage and movie roles, including some “Law and Order” episodes, and Baritone Ron Raines, who earned his acting fame in the CBS soap opera “Guiding Light,” sang a number of classic hits, including “Embraceable You” and “Somebody Loves Me.”
I never know quite what to say about the MSO. It always rises to whatever occasion it confronts. It did an especially fine job on "Symphonic Dances From West Side Story," but, then, it did a fine job on everything else, too.
Most of all, however, everyone -- performers and audience alike -- seemed to be having a whole lot of fun and, given this spring, we needed it.