Madison loves pianist Olga Kern. She was almost awarded a standing ovation from the Madison Symphony Orchestra audience just for coming on stage, and when she left the stage a half-hour or so later the audience seemed perfectly happy applauding until she came back again and again.
Kern, 39, previously performed for the MSO in 2009 and 2010. She is highlighting the MSO's all-Russian concerts this weekend at the Overture Center.
And I know this is stupid, but what she reminds me of most is a female Russian spy in an old James Bond movie.
She's beautiful, sexy, obviously talented and you probably don't want to cross her too often. Some musicians seem to form a collaboration with their instruments. Kern gives orders to hers and the Steinway obeys.
She played Sergey Rachmaninoff's "Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor for Piano and Orchestra," a piece first performed in 1892 and reworked in 1917.
It is a powerful piece. The orchestra, especially the horns, open up on the music and Kern's piano gives as good as it takes. No one was nodding off in the audience.
The concert begins, however with Tchaikovsky's "Suite from Swan Lake" and it is possible to nod off during that performance.
Not because it's boring, and not because it isn't well-played.
But "Swan Lake" is such a familiar ballet that it is tempting for the listener to shut his eyes and envision beautiful ballerinas swirling across the stage. It's a truly beautiful piece of music, and paired with Kern's enthusiastic command of the piano, makes for a meaningful and enjoyable first half of the concert.
The second half is devoted to Dmitri Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 6 in B minor," a piece that makes one wonder if the famed composer might have written more lyrically if he hadn't been so afraid of Stalin.
One more comment on "Swan Lake." You do have to hear the solo parts by Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz to remind yourself just how lucky Madison is to have her in its symphony. She brings something special to every concert, but her solos are truly moving.