Cowbells and Beethoven Highlight MSO Concert

Cowbells and Beethoven Highlight MSO Concert
Madison Symphony Orchestra

A barefoot trumpet player, a 112-piece orchestra and a few cowbells are pretty much standard for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Well, maybe not “standard” but this weekend’s MSO concerts certainly are taking the “blah” out of March.

Trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, a Norwegian musician who played here in 2014, returns with a stirring performance of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s “Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra.”

She is a lovely woman who plays a mean trumpet, but her bare shoulders and bare feet seemed incongruous on a night when the temperature was 19 degrees and a north wind was howling through the city.

It might be a Norwegian thing.

The audience loved her and had almost to be forced to stop clapping so that she could play her encore.

Also visiting the MSO is conductor Carl St. Clare, music director of the Pacific Symphony, who has previously conducted our orchestra in 2005, 2007 and 2012.

How would one describe St. Clare? Let’s put it this way: MSO conductor John DeMain is no shrinking violet on stage, but, in comparison to St. Clare, DeMain might as well be an Amish monk.

St. Clare has white hair that wraps down to his shoulders. He pounces on the podium (though when Helseth was performing he was far more subdued) and seems almost in physical contact with each musician.

Speaking of musicians, this weekend’s symphony is the “Alpine Symphony” by Richard Strauss.

It is a 23-movement (actually, they’re called “tableaux”) symphonic poem that follows a journey through the alps.

The orchestra included 112 musicians, 103 on stage and nine trumpets off-stage and, according to music historian J. Micheal Allsen, it is the second-largest orchestra to perform an MSO concert. A Mahler symphony a few years ago had 118 musicians.

The cowbells come in a tableaux set in a meadow. Later, a musical thunderstorm pulls full force from all the instruments, including the Overture Concert Organ.

They play 52 minutes without stopping (the cowbells don’t go the entire distance) and make quite an impressive display.

Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont” rounds out the program. It is just nine minutes long but is a beautiful piece of music.

The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.