Three classical music milestones in Madison

All three celebrate anniversaries this year
Three classical music milestones in Madison
Courtesy of Middleton Community Orchestra
Middleton Community Orchestra

The anniversaries for two groups and a historic venue demonstrate the Madison area’s long history of providing consistently high-quality classical music.

The youngest of this trio is the Middleton Community Orchestra, entering its 10th season since its founding. Two clarinetists, Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, launched the enterprising orchestra in May 2010 with Steve Kurr as principal conductor. The group plays in a first-rate venue, the Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School, and has earned the admiration of local critics for tackling a tough repertoire.

MCO has offered several young professional players opportunities to step out as soloists. For example, clarinetist JJ Koh of the Madison Symphony Orchestra will take the lead when MCO performs Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto in A Major” on Oct. 9.

In addition to having volunteer orchestra members who play at a high level, Taranto says, “our early success collaborating with rising stars became our model and continues to be our unique niche in the Madison classical scene.” More information about the group’s five programs can be found at middletoncommunityorchestra.org.

The 2019-2020 season is Andrew Sewell’s 20th as music director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. In addition to being perhaps the greatest ambassador for the summer Concerts on the Square, Sewell and the WCO deliver the holiday traditions of Handel’s “Messiah” and Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” But the heart of the season resides in the five Masterworks concerts in the Capitol Theater from January through May. That’s where Sewell’s great gift for mixing and matching selections with unusual soloists is most evident. This season the most potent combo will find harpist Yolanda Kondonassis playing Ginastera’s “Harp Concerto” on March 27.

There may be no greater historic presenter of classical music in Madison than the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin Union Theater, which opened in 1939. But for nearly 20 years before that, the union was the site of performances by such luminaries as Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. Shannon Hall, an auditorium renovated five years ago, has hosted the California-based male chorus Chanticleer, pianists Emanuel Ax and Wu Han and violinist Gil Shaham. Superstar soprano Renee Fleming will perform there next year.

Adding to that rich cultural heritage is the inaugural David and Kato Perlman Chamber Series, which will culminate on March 5 with the crème de la crème of American music ensembles: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.