Arts and Culture

4 classic music concerts to start the summer

Performances not to be missed in June

Fireworks may be just around the corner, but as Rodgers and Hammerstein told us in “Carousel,” “June is bustin’ out all over.” The following classical music performances in Madison will add to the excitement this month.

Middleton Community Orchestra
Inevitably in the shadow of the Madison’s larger and older musical groups, the Middleton Community Orchestra continues to offer a low-cost, high-quality alternative to the regular denizens of the Overture Center. The orchestra delivers  solid concerts in the acoustically exciting Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School. Throw in a compelling soloist and a wonderfully informal reception afterwards, and your $15 ticket is a great investment. And if you’re a student, you pay nothing.

On Wednesday, June 7, the MCO closes their seventh season with a Russian program featuring concertmaster Paran Amirinazari as soloist in the “Violin Concerto No. 2” by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev. Artistic director of the Willy Street Chamber Players, Amirinazair is sure to dazzle technically and interpretively. MCO music director Steve Kurr also leads a Borodin overture, and Tchaikovsky’s beloved “Symphony No. 5.”

Handel Aria Competition
In less than four years, the Handel Aria Competition has grown in reputation and stature both locally and internationally. For its fifth incarnation on Friday, June 9, seven soloists will vie for awards. This year’s group includes singers from New York, New Orleans, the Midwest and Nanjing, China. Mills Hall is likely to be full again of Baroque music fans eager to sample the current rising stars, many of whom have gone on (or are continuing) major careers. The singers will be accompanied by players from the Madison Bach Musicians, directed by MBM founder Trevor Stephenson. Get your tickets early.

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society co-founders Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes have put together—for the 26th time—a phenomenal lineup of incredibly varied chamber music programs of all styles, played by top-notch artists. Each concert is presented twice at one of four different venues. You can catch all of them at the Playhouse, “downstairs” at the Overture Center, opening night (Friday, June 9) at the Stoughton Opera House, or any of them on a Sunday afternoon or evening at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

The theme this year is “Alphabet Soup,” but the tongue-in-cheek titles can’t disguise the excellence of the music that awaits us. Just a few of the stellar players include Sykes’ colleagues of the San Francisco Piano Trio (including violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau), clarinetist Alan Kay, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (part of BDDS last season, and recently heard with the Madison Symphony in Brahms’ “A German Requiem”) and local returning favorites cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Taylor.

What to hear? One can choose from reportorial pillars such as Brahms’ “Piano Quintet,” Tchaikovsky’s neglected string sextet “Souvenirs de Florence,” great works that are hard to catch live, such as Bartok’s “Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin and Piano,” or rarities such as Ned Rorem’s “Santa Fe Songs” or Paul Moravec’s “Cool Fire.”

Concerts on the Square
Presumably by June 29 it will be more than warm enough to feel like sitting in the shadow of the Capitol and munch on a special picnic supper while you join 20,000 or more of your neighbors to soak up the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s first Concert on the Square. Launching their 34th season, Andrew Sewell will lead his enthusiastic group in a listener-friendly program featuring competition winner Emily Hauer (an Appleton native who has racked up a long list of awards—and she only just finished her freshman year) and includes music by Leonard Bernstein. Can fireworks be far behind?

Greg Hettmansberger reviews opera and classical music for

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