Symphony review: MSO ends season on exuberant note

Symphony review: MSO ends season on exuberant note
Naha Greenholtz

The Madison Symphony Orchestra completes its 2014/15 season this weekend with a breathtaking rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “choral” symphony.

Along with the Fifth Symphony, the Ninth is among Beethoven’s best-known works. The major melody of the choral movement is the basis for the popular hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”

It is a wonderfully exuberant piece of music. In fact, its very staging speaks of glorious excess. On the stage of Overture Hall you find the MSO and the Madison Symphony Chorus, a couple hundred musicians, half of whom are only there to sing the 20-minute or so final movement.

In addition, there are four “soloists,” soprano Melody Moore, contralto Gwendolyn Brown, bass Morris Robinson and tenor Eric Barry. They’ve each come to Madison from various other parts of the country. Only Robinson and Barry actually sing solos and those are brief. The four of them join in a few lines, but they all mostly sing with the chorus. There’s nothing cautious or reserved about any of this; it’s just all-out joy.

Robinson, by the way, can rival the Overture Concert Organ for rumbling the seat-backs.

It’s just a great piece of music and conductor John DeMain scored a triumph for the last concert of the season.

In past years DeMain asked us to enjoy Mahler at year’s end. That’s sort of like saying “Eat your carrots.”

The other piece of the concert was Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium).”

Naha Greenholtz, the MSO’s principal concertmaster, was the soloist for this work. It is 35 minutes long and she was playing for the entire time.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that if Naha Greenholtz is playing a piece of music, then I am going to like that piece of music. She just has a way of making the music a bit sweeter, a bit kinder, than do most other violinists. The Friday night concert was no exception.

She has a workout in this concert, too. Following the Bernstein piece, she traded her red evening gown for her customary black pants and black top uniform and returned to her customary position as concertmaster. We’re quite lucky to have her in our orchestra, I think.

The symphony season returns September 25-27 when clarinetist Joseph Morris will be the guest soloist. Season tickets are now on sale.