"Concerts Off the Square," as Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra now calls its indoor, winter-season series, gets underway this Friday (8:00 p.m. at the Wisconsin Union Theater) with the first of three finalists for the WCO's music director position on the podium. Each of the candidates had a turn during the summer, leading a Concert On the Square. Indoors, Elizabeth Stoyanovich will lead off, followed in late October by Kirk Muspratt and in mid-January by Andrew Sewell.
It seems likely the second hurdle will be more of a challenge for the three conductors than the first one was, in part because the programs are much more demanding of both musicians and the conductor, but also because the selection involves a lot of variables: artistic ones foremost, but also, as WCO executive director Robert Sorge told me, "a willingness to make a firm commitment to chamber orchestra repertory -- a person who really wanted a symphony job would not be ideal for us -- a good potential for helping the organization grow and prosper, and a strong ability to relate to the audiences we hope to attract."
The WCO organization, faced with the painful loss of long-time music director David Crosby at the end of the 1998-99 summer season, moved quickly to satisfy the public's strongly expressed imperative to continue Crosby's work. The group has achieved a stable financial footing, with a budget this past fiscal year of $810,000. Sorge is very forthcoming, however, about the risks the WCO now faces. "We got very positive response about the improvement in sound engineering this summer, but it meant a 57% increase in our sound budget."
A lot now hangs on the outcome of the process that will select an artistic leader for the coming period. Each conductor has chosen a program that involves some risk with audience acceptance. Stoyanovich has programmed three 20th-century masters: Copland, Britten and Prokofiev; Muspratt will play Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Stravinsky; and Sewell will conduct Bizet and two works by Ravel. All three programs are interesting, all are demanding for both players and conductor, and each will weigh heavily in influencing not only the selection itself but the WCO's growth potential in the years ahead.
Sorge is cautiously optimistic: "We hope the audience will commit to this effort, be willing with us to try different things, and take part in the expanding opportunities for musical enjoyment Madison offers." The final decision is expected in time for the WCO's February board meeting.
Isthmus, September, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson