February brings a new opera and young classical music stars

Six stellar events set for this month
February brings a new opera and young classical music stars
Photo by Hannah Olson
UW-Madison's "Symphony Showcase" will feature, left to right, Shuk-ki Wong on piano, Matthew Lee on violin, soprano singer Anna Polum, Matthew Onstad on trumpet and Shing Fung (Biffa) Kwok on violin. (Not pictured, composer Nathan Froebe.)

February finds Madison halfway through the run of the new production of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Overture Center, but after that we’ll be treated to a line-up of classical events that truly offers something for everyone, Valentines included.

In fact, the second weekend of the month alone is packed, beginning with the return of Madison Opera and the new production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.” The work is so new that Madison Opera will be only the second company to present it after its premiere in Philadelphia in 2015–to rave reviews–and brief stop at the Apollo Theater in New York. From here it goes to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

But we get the first Midwest chance to experience “Yardbird” and the jazzy arias of Daniel Schnyder it includes. Performances are February 10 at 8 p.m. and February 12 at 2:30 p.m.

The work opens with Parker, the innovative saxophonist of the bebop era, lying in the morgue in 1955. This is followed by a series of flashbacks featuring the various women in his life, to illuminate chapters of his compelling and tragic life.

In addition to the staging Charlie Parker’s saga on Sunday, you can head over to the First Congregational Church for the winter event of Con Vivo: Music with Life. The flexibly structured, always fascinating group, offers music of Zemlinsky, Medtner and Milhaud. The winter concert starts at 2:30 p.m., and as always Con Vivo includes a relaxed reception with ample opportunity to meet the artists.

If you’re in the mood for a musical doubleheader, head over to Mills Hall for the “Symphony Showcase” of the Mead Witter School of Music at University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year’s crop of rising stars includes violinists Shing Fung (Biffa) Kwok and Matthew Lee, trumpeter Matthew Onstad, soprano Anna Polum, pianist Shuk-Ki Wong and composer Nathan Froebe. The repertoire includes Ravel, Shostakovich, Gounod, Bohme, and a new work from Froebe. Tickets are $10 for adults, students and children attend free of charge. And again, an enticing reception follows.

John DeMain returns to Overture Hall with the Madison Symphony on February 17 at 7:30 p.m. (with repeats on the 18th at 8 p.m. and the 19th at 2:30 p.m.), for a romantic program of works by Barber, Saint-Saens and Tchaikovsky. Pianist Stephen Hough will favor attendees with his superb artistry in the “Piano Concerto No. 5” and “Egyptian” of Saint-Saens. The second half of the concert will be devoted to Tchaikovsky’s searing last symphony, “Pathetique.”

The next installment of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra might be considered the final installment of a down payment made over the last couple of years. Julian Rhee, still in his teens, will perform the Brahms “Violin Concerto.” In 2015-2016, Rhee racked up prizes in Milwaukee with WCO, and took first place in the “Final Forte” with the Madison Symphony. Needless to say, his Concerts on the Square reading of the first movement alone could not do his youthful ardor justice.

And if that weren’t reason enough to go, music director Andrew Sewell has devised a shortened version of Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale,” with one speaking part and nearly all of the music. We get one chance for this very special program, Friday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theater.

Just in case one needs another shot of romance this month, the Salon Piano Series brings back Adam Neiman for an all-Chopin program, featuring “Four Ballades” and “24 Preludes.” The intimate setting, and superb keyboards of Farley’s House of Pianos, promise to provide a perfect combination of intimate listening. The program begins at 4 p.m., but check ahead of time for a pre-concert lecture.

Greg Hettmansberger writes the monthly “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine.