Wineke review: Violinist excites midwinter concert audiences

Wineke review: Violinist excites midwinter concert audiences
Submitted photo
James Ehnes

I suppose we expect most guest soloists at Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts to give “virtuoso” performances. That, after all, is why the orchestra invites them and why it pays them.

But violinist James Ehnes went a little above and beyond even those expectations at the weekend MSO concerts.

Johannes Brahms’ “Concerto for Violin and orchestra in D Major” has three movements and at least some of the concert goers Friday night were on their feet following each of the movements.

This is Ehnes’ third performance with the MSO. He was previously here in 2012 and 2015.

He is so popular here that more than a few patrons left the theater after the concerto. They were wrong, but we will get to that later.

Now it is time to air my personal pet peeve about concerts. In addition to Brahms, Ehnes played a magnificent sonata as an encore. It truly was beautiful and if I knew what it was I would tell you.

But I rarely know what an artist plays as an encore because they always announce it from the stage and I usually can’t make out the name of the composer or of the music.

Now, our visiting artists always do a good job, always get a standing ovation, always play an encore. Is there some good reason why the encore can’t be listed in the program? I know I could always ask some MSO staff and find out, but there are a couple thousand people in the auditorium for each of three performances. Who are they going to ask?

Back to the performance.

This year marks the 80th birthday of composer John Harbison, one of the world’s most celebrated composers, who works in Boston but has a farm near Token Creek, where he hosts the Token Creek Festival each year.

In tribute, the MSO began the concert with Harbison’s “The Most Often Used Chords.”

Its genesis came from an instruction guide on the fundamentals of music, which listed the 10 most-often-used chords. Harbison put them to work, playing them in succession, which turned out to be a lot more musical than it sounds, though, to be honest, a bit dull to my mind.

Contrast that with the final item on the program, Modest Mussorrgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Mussorgsky, a Russian composer in the 19th century, visited an exhibition of 400 drawings by an architect named Victor Hartmann and put several of them to music, including, an old castle, catacombs, oxen pulling a cart and children playing, all tied together by a common “Promenade.”

Conductor John DeMain and the orchestra brought the pictures to life and made a cheerful ending to the cold night’s concert.

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