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For all the intermittent struggles of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra to perform a "Concerts on the Square" performance without deferring to the weather, one would have been tempted to bet the house that Wednesday night's inaugural event of 2013 would have been postponed for sure.
But the sun came out, and stayed out, just in time for Andrew Sewell and his fun-loving band to kick off the 30th anniversary season of one of musical Madison's most loved traditions.
The theme of the program unfolding before the apparently 20,000+ audience that typically gathers was "Fairy Tales and Fables." The only one of the summer's six offerings to stay strictly in the classical repertoire, it nevertheless proved predictably light in the best sense of the word.
It also featured another young prodigy who demonstrated that fairy tales are often in the making all around us: David Cao, fresh out of his freshman year at Madison Memorial High School, found no insurmountable technical challenges in the first movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Fortunately, he also uncovered a number of the expressive moments in the familiar and cherished work, while displaying a poised presence that belies his age. According to his bio, the 2013 Young Artist Concerto Competition winner will find continued success in taekwondo or the biomedical field, if the fiddling thing doesn't work out.
Before Cao closed the first half, Sewell and company opened with a delightfully breezy Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, and Respighi's borrowing of Rossini trifles in The Magic Toy Shop suite. The six brief vignettes were the perfect backdrop to the myriad clusters of fans happily noshing, playing cards, or just enjoying a few hours of not dodging raindrops.
Less successful was the happily anticipated Peter and the Wolf. Despite Norman Gilliland's seemingly nuanced narration, his contribution and the parade of iconic instrumental solos that populate Prokofiev's gem got lost in the amplified translation. I should allow for my particular vantage point; typically I'm on the outskirts of the throng, and it's possible that many closer auditors, certainly those on the grassy area, have a different aural experience.
But the ensuing selections from Ravel's Mother Goose suite wafted over the crowd in surging, smoky swirls of sound that were most beguiling. The closing Prokofiev also held its own, acoustically speaking, with the Waltz and Midnight sequence from his Cinderella ballet. As a nod to next week's July Fourth eve concert, Sewell provided an encore accompaniment of Sousa's "Washington Post." Here's hoping for a clear night for some high-spirited flag waving.
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