Almost two years ago, the Los Angeles Philharmonic was set to welcome the new year with a difficult and promising program, but illness struck both the guest violinist and the conductor.
Into the breach, just days before the concert, stepped Edo de Waart, the 74-year-old music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and 31-year-old violinist Augustin Hadelich. There was no time to rehearse the scheduled program so they played Beethoven’s Concerto in D major for violin and orchestra. The program drew raves from the crowd and from the critics.
The two men teamed up again Friday night to repeat that program for an adoring near-capacity crowd in Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
And sitting in the hushed crowd watching this blending of virtuosity between a man and his violin, as well as a man and his orchestra, was a heart-throbbing experience.
Hadelich and de Waart, both dressed simply in all black, were separated by mere feet, one facing the audience, the other facing the orchestra. But the music they made might well have seemed like a walk in the park, holding hands, on a spring day.
Beethoven is not known for work that could be described as "sweet." But this concerto is full of sweetness, and Hadelich was almost hypnotic with the ease with which he coaxed exquisite sound from his instrument. He roared when it was time to roar, and when it was time to be gentle, his sound was like the flapping of wings on a butterfly.
In a concerto like this, it is perhaps most difficult to blend the work of the orchestra with the work of the soloist, but the performance Friday night was as if they had played together for decades. The MSO, under de Waart’s coaxing baton, is truly one of the top regional orchestras in the country. The performance Friday night showed why.
The first half of the program was Symphony No. 5 by Carl Nielsen.
The piece began with the softness of viola’s and moved to full-throated sound with a snare drum guiding the music along its path. The orchestra had moments when it was stunning how soft and gentle a sound they could make. It was as if we were listening to the rhythm of a barely audible heartbeat. You could see members of the audience leaning forward in their seats and turning their heads with an ear to the stage, hoping to hold on to the music de Waart and his musicians were creating.
The waiting for the crescendo after the silence became a game of patience for those who were listening. We expected it again, again and again, and when de Waart finally turned his players loose, the experience was overwhelming.
After the intermission, it was time for Hadelich.
He stood still as the orchestra began the piece, head bowed, violin in the crook of his arm, waiting for his moment. And when it came, he stood tall and created a magic that is rare in the world of music. There was nothing hesitant or unsure about his playing. This was a man and his instrument becoming one before our very eyes.
When the final notes were struck, the audience leapt to its feet and showered applause on each and every musician on that stage. Hadelich came back for an encore of Paganini’s Caprice No. 9. At the end, he smiled, bowed, gave thanks to the orchestra and de Waart, and the evening came to an end.
Having a symphony orchestra like this in our city is a gift that deserves support. But more than what we can give the symphony is what the symphony gives to all of us.
Even if you are not an expert in classical music, even if you don’t know a thing about it, it is a guarantee that if you go, you will be moved.
The program repeats Saturday night and information on tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.