A classical music kind of March madness

A classical music kind of March madness
Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky joins the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in a concert on March 18.

March Madness, of course, has that specific connotation of the ups and downs of following the NCAA basketball tournament, and if anything, it’s all the sweeter now that one can record any crucial games that might be scheduled against a real life event. But when it comes to the classical music scene over the next few weeks, you can’t set your DVR for a live event—and you’ll probably wish you could. Here are the places to restore your inner peace when your bracket has been busted … listed in no particular “seeding,” merely chronologically!

The second weekend of March has two great events going head to head—but thankfully they both have multiple performances. John DeMain returns to the podium of the Madison Symphony Orchestra after another batch of stellar reviews for his work last month at Washington National Opera. The slate for the performances of March 11, 12 and 13 (in Overture Hall) involves the return of two longtime favorites. Pianist Emmanuel Ax comes back to the MSO to wow us in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, and DeMain brings back Gustav Mahler and his Fourth Symphony, with soprano Alisa Jordheim in the transcendent finale.

Also opening on March 11, but with additional performances on March 13 and 15 is University Opera, presenting Conrad Susa’s “Transformations.” It is a provocative work, to say the least, with libretto by the Pulitzer Prize-winning “confessional poet” Anne Sexton. With decidedly modern twists on some fairy tale characters, be advised that the production is recommended for high school ages and up. It is also recommended in order to experience again the burgeoning career of conductor Kyle Knox, who was stellar in his Madison Opera debut last month. The performances are as usual in the Music Hall.

Last month the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra gave perhaps the most memorable and beautifully played concert yours truly has heard from them in the last five-plus seasons. They return to the Capitol Theater on March 18 with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, soloist in the dramatic/lyrical/fiendish concerto of Samuel Barber. Music director has a couple of rarities for us as well, and rounds out the program with the Symphony No. 4 of Beethoven.

One of the newer chamber groups I have yet to catch up with—and the reviews they’re getting are exciting—is the Mosaic Chamber Players. They present their final concert of the season at the Unitarian Church (900 University Bay Dr.) on March 19. Pianist and founder Jess Salek leads a trio in an all-Schubert program that is sure to be memorable. There are few venues in Madison better suited to small chamber groups, and these are musicians who have proven time and again that they can both play the notes and read between the lines, artistically speaking.

Fresco Opera Theatre has built a solid foundation on an unusual niche: Melanie and Frank Cain present opera that isn’t quite opera in the traditional sense. They take it a step further on April 1-3 in the Promenade Hall of Overture Center with “Clara.” This is a dramatic work based on the book Trio by Boman Desai, telling the various ins and outs of the love affair(s) between Clara and Robert Schumann and, later, Brahms’ love for the widow Clara. Other folks (pianist Jeffrey Siegel comes to mind) have presented events in which the music of these three elucidate the multi-layered dynamics of their relationships, but this should prove to be as stimulating as it is unique.

And on the same weekend (here we go again!) the Madison Symphony returns for a powerhouse program: pianist Garrick Ohlsson tackles the Piano Concerto No. 1 of Brahms, and DeMain brings us into the 21st century with the Symphony No. 1 of Steven Stucky (who passed away just last month). As always, the MSO performs on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

And we can all watch the championship game on Monday, April 4 … go, Bucky!