Concerts on the Square: Patriotism, Slightly Chilled

Concerts on the Square: Patriotism, Slightly Chilled
Concerts on the Square, on a sunnier evening....

Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra always manage to set the stage—indeed, are an integral part of—Madison’s Fourth of July celebrations. It may be the best attended of the annual Concerts on the Square events each year, with its welcome predictability of a dash of Copland and/or Gershwin, the “Armed Forces Salute,” and a conclusion of the 1812 Overture complete with sixteen cannon blasts.

Of course, the least predictable thing about Wisconsin is the weather, and while the usual crowd of somewhere between 10,000-20,000 auditors showed up on Wednesday, they didn’t just sit on blankets—they huddled in them. Now it’s true that the temperature never dropped below 63 degrees, but the thick clouds remained until almost the end, and a steady breeze had more stamina than a few of the folks. Suffice to say that no one needed to worry whether their wine was chilled.

Fortunately Sewell and friends gently warmed us with an excerpt from Copland’s music for the film of Madison native Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, and then soprano Sarah Lawrence (from Stoughton herself), raised the temperature with a thoughtful reading of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Following a nice off-the-beaten -path programming touch of Loesser’s “Somebody, Somewhere” from The Most Happy Fella, Lawrence ceded the stage to her husband, tenor Calland Metts. He had the double-edged sword task of bringing Willson’s “Trouble” from The Music Man  to life. It’s almost impossible to hear the piece without echoes of Robert Preston in one’s ears—and if you go “too far” in your own reading of it, one runs the risk of having listeners muttering to themselves “that’s not how it goes.” Metts walked the interpretive tightrope well; perhaps the most surprising thing was to realize how much one missed the chorus.

The tenor and soprano then teamed up for “All I Ask of You” from Webber’s ubiquitous Phantom of the Opera, but the true first half highlight came in their encore, a thrilling collaboration in “Tonight” from West Side Story.

Left on their own in the second half, Sewell and the WCO gave us most of what we came for: a stirring “Fanfare for the Common Man” of Copland, the aforementioned Armed Forces Salute, with the opportunity to see the men and women in our midst who stand during their service divisions song in the medley, and the 1812 Overture at last. Despite the hopeful signs that the clouds were clearing, it was not an omen for the cannon, which were missing in action save for three or four late booms. Sewell even gave us an “encore” of the final section again to have another go at it, but we had to settle for the percussion section’s punctuations alone. But there was another unscripted encore for some: A shaft of a rainbow seemed to rise from Lake Monona almost straight into the sky, greeting those who walked back to their cars or other destinations. Now that was a warming sight.