MADISON, Wis. - Sometimes art can color our perception of the times and, sometimes, the events of the day can color our perception of art.
The weekend concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra were billed as being “Richly Romantic,” a tribute, presumably, to Valentine's Day.
In fact, the symphony and guest cellist Alban Gerhardt presented an intense, almost steely performance featuring music by Rossini, William Walton and Johannes Brahms.
The music didn't change – the program was determined months ago – but our perception changed.
The program was designed with Valentine's Day in mind. The reality was that a disturbed young gunman murdered 17 people in a Florida High School on Thursday and the Justice Department revealed indictments showing this country's system of choosing its leaders has been under successful Russian attack for almost four years.
Gerhardt, a German virtuoso, was an almost perfect soloist for the occasion. He played Walton's “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra” with an intense determination, sometimes glaring straight ahead as he worked his bow.
And, yet, Gerhardt is not an angry man. He is German, not Italian. He doesn't flirt with his audience. When taking bows, a grin crossed his face several times – but it lasted less than a half-second.
But he also repeatedly deflected the applause to the orchestra behind him. He was more gracious in this than almost any artist I've seen at the MSO. He almost refused to take solo bows, gesturing to conductor John DeMain to join him several times.
He also plays brilliantly but, honestly, we kind of expect that from the soloists DeMain brings to Madison.
The program began with Rossin's “Overture to Semiramidi,” an opera composed in Venice in 1823. It is an 11-minute long work filled with familiar tunes.
Brahms' “Symphony Number One” was completed in 1878 and pretty much sums up the mood of the evening.
It begins in the words of J. Michael Allsen, who writes program notes for the symphony, “with a stormy opening” and concludes “with a triumphant Finale.”
The third movement is somewhat lyrical and offers a sense of hope and the fourth movement isn't angry, but it is determined.
All in all, it's a very interesting concert.
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