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MSO: Andre Watts, Piano

John Stevens: Jubilare
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, "Eroica"

Madison Symphony Orchestra
André Watts, piano
Roland Johnson, conductor
Beverly Taylor, conductor
John DeMain, conductor


After mayor Sue Baumann formally presented a proclamation naming September 23, 2000 as "Madison Symphony Orchestra Day" to MSO president Bob Horowitz and after assistant conductor Beverly Taylor led the orchestra and a packed house in the traditional first-concert rendition of the National Anthem, the MSO's 75th anniversay season got underway with the world premiere of UW School of Music Prof. John Stevens' Jubilare, commissioned by the MSO for this occasion.

In a fitting and deeply moving gesture of respect and affection, members of the orchestra stood as music director laureate Roland Johnson came to the podium to conduct the Stevens piece, which proved to be a first-rate work. Especially on second hearing Sunday, I was impressed by its skillful orchestration and its thematic and rhythmic organization. Appropriate to its function as a celebratory fanfare, the work features pulsing, bright sound, but it also offers great lyricism in several more introspective sections.

Music director John DeMain conducted the balance of the concert, which comprised two major works by Beethoven, starting with my favorite of all piano concertos, the Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, with André Watts as soloist. The Saturday performance was impressive indeed, but on Sunday Watts and DeMain achieved that rare musical fusion which goes beyond great to frankly amazing. The hallmarks here were clarity appropriate to the classical core of the work alloyed with unabashedly romantic rhythmic drive and beautifully shaped lyrical and dynamic expressive freedom. I don't think anything tops a miracle, and that's the only word I find fitting for this performance, in each of its three movements. The audience, instantly on its feet both times, seems to have agreed.

The concerto would be a hard act to follow, but after intermission the performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, "Eroica" was as good as any I've ever heard. By this I mean that despite the often very thick texture of the writing, every note was clearly audible, the score fully realized, and furthermore with great care, tonal warmth and expressive ecstasy. Every phrase had shape and was beautifully finished. Every dynamic outpouring was suitably scaled. The string playing was flawless, the wind sound bright and transparent, above all in the second-movement marcia funebre, one of music's most glorious edificies. Bearing in mind that this first concert of the season was also a first for the orchestra's new members, the high level of the accomplishment is the more remarkable.

To understate by quite a lot: "Well done and thank you!"

Isthmus, September, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson

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