Wineke: MSO ends season with spectacular Mass

Wineke: MSO ends season with spectacular Mass

The Madison Symphony Orchestra finished its season this weekend by staging of the Catholic Mass in a form you’ve almost certainly never before experienced.

The Mass, which, theologically, is a recreation of the sacrifice Christians believe Christ made on the cross, is a fairly standard, and basically Latin, musical staple. Musical productions also tend to be beautiful and calming.

But Czech composer Leos Janacek, in 1926, set the Mass in Old Church Slavic rather than Latin and the result is a rendition far more intense – in your face, really – and powerful than we are used to hearing.

The MSO performed the work, The Glagolitic Mass, for the first time this weekend. It featured solos by tenor Rodrick Dixon, soprano Rebecca Wilson, bass Benjamin Silverding and mezzo soprano Julie Miller.

Dixon’s performance began in an almost shocking manor. His is not the tenor of a Puccini. Instead, he roars “Have Mercy on Us” (in Slavic) as a wounded cry for help.

Throughout the Mass the singers – and the Madison Symphony Chorus – present a tortured image of people who seek God’s mercy and present their statements of faith not in confident tones but as people who are praying for the strength to believe.

It’s quite a remarkable piece and well worth hearing.

Also featured in the weekend performance is Mozart’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” featuring pianist Christopher O’Riley, playing with the MSO for the first time since 1995.

Wearing a formal jacket that hangs almost to his knees (it looks like an indoor overcoat), O’Riley gives a spirited, yet dignified, performance, one that projects an effortless command of the keyboard.

We shouldn’t let the season end without saying something about the overall excellence of its performances during the past season – during every season, actually.

Probably best to let one of the performers explain:

Augustine Hadelich, who was the featured violinist in the April concert, talked about Midwest orchestras in a two-page profile printed April 9 in “The New Yorker” magazine.

“In the past decade, he has entered the upper echelon of the violin world. . . Yet he still spends much of the year traveling to orchestras across America, revisiting cities where he received early attention: San Diego, Milwaukee, Madison, Forth Worth.

“Some of my friends in Europe. or even in New York, are still quite snobby and don’t know how really good these orchestras are,” he said.

In Madison’s case, there were two really good orchestras that gave Hadelich a start. He performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in 2009, with the MSO in 2012 and, again, in 2013.

The fact that celebrated performers choose to return to Madison says a lot about the kind of orchestras and audiences we provide.