Review: MSO crowd cheers guest conductor
During the past 30 years or so I have rarely missed attending a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert.
Friday night’s performance marked the first time I have sensed the audience wanted an encore for the conductor. My understanding is that the Saturday and Sunday performances were equally popular.
Symphony orchestras don’t do encores, of course. Encores are offered by featured soloists, like cellist Zuill Bailey, who offered a well-received performance of Edward Elgar’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.”
But the real weekend star was guest conductor Tania Miller, music director emerita of the Victoria, British Columbia, Symphony Orchestra.
As she finished leading Peter Ilyvich Tchaikovski’s “Symphony Number 5,” the Overture Hall audience collectively leaped to its feet and started not only applauding but cheering. The orchestra seemed slightly more restrained (its members were holding instruments after all), but only slightly more so.
Miller, who opened the concert by taking a microphone and complimenting the orchestra’s quality — a tribute to decades of local work — seemed to return the affection. After each of the three works on the program (the third was Michael Oesterle’s “Home,” the final movement of his 214 symphony, “New World”), she joined in the applause of the orchestra.
One other unusual aspect of Friday night’s experience is that Miller, 49, appears more youthful in person than she does in her publicity photograph. I know we’re not supposed to be talking about the conductor’s appearance, but one reason for attending a live concert as opposed to buying a CD is that the overall ambiance of the performance is as important as the quality of the actual music.
Miller’s conducting style is crisp and animated. Like most conductors, she gestures toward various instrumentalists when it comes time for their participation.
In that way, a conductor is something like an organist, whose hands and feet may be playing different melodies. The conductor is not only marking the tempo of the music being played but also working ahead toward the music about to be played.
Miller would gesture to individual musicians just a second, perhaps less, sooner than most of her contemporaries do. If you are in the audience watching her, you think, “Ah, something interesting is about to happen over there.”
Well, as I said, orchestras don’t do encores, but it was pretty evident Friday night that Miller will be welcome back anytime John DeMain, MSO’s music director, chooses to invite her.
Now, for Bailey.
Normally, one of the world’s most popular musicians wouldn’t take second billing to the conductor. But these were unusual concerts.
Zuill Bailey, 46, is considered one of the world’s premiere cellists who has performed with orchestras all over the United States and throughout the world.
He plays a 1693 Goffrilla cello, one of just two like it in the world and judging from his interactions with concertgoers in the Overture Center lobby during the intermission, he is a very nice guy.
As he plays, it is as intriguing to watch his hands as his bow. His fingers move so rapidly that he could be playing a piano and the sound from his oversize instrument has just a little extra mellowness to it.
Neither Miller nor Bailey has performed in Madison previously. It was a privilege to have them here this weekend.
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