54° F
Scattered Clouds
Scattered Clouds

MSO Honors Johnson, Haugan; Cheers Ohlsson

By William R. Wineke, Special to Channel 3000
Published On: Sep 24 2012 12:37:59 PM CDT
Classical music orchestra symphony MSO

iStock Image

The beginning of the classical music concert season in Madison has much of the feeling of the beginning of the athletic season – except the seats are more comfortable.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra opened its 87th season Friday night at the Overture Center with an almost all-Russian concert featuring pianist Garrick Ohlsson and honoring the late Roland Johnson, music director here for 33 years and tuba principal Paul Haugan, who performed with the orchestra for 30 seasons before his death earlier this year at age 57.

The atmosphere of the entire evening, from the opening notes of the National Anthem (that’s a tradition for symphonies but, I swear, we sing it with more gusto than most) to the almost wild cheering for Ohlsson at concert’s end, was one of celebration and good times.

Even current music director John DeMain is observing his 19th season with the MSO. Ohlsson has played here previously in 1984, 1985, 2002 and 2008.

So, there is an “old shoe” comfortableness with the orchestra. But that doesn’t mean the music is any the less exciting.

The evening began with “Adagio for Strings,” a piece composed originally for tubas by John Stevens, director of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (that’s the “almost Russian” part of the concert. It is a very sweet piece, one which Stevens transcribed for strings a few years ago.

Igor Stravinsky’s “Suite from the Firebird” followed and brought the audience to its feet for a second time (the “Star Spangled Banner”).

If I have any complaint about the Madison audience, however, it is that we have a tendency to offer standing ovations to anyone or anything we like. What happened at the first concert is that the standing ovation began even as DeMain was trying to recognize individual musicians. The result was that those patrons physically unable to rise also were unable to see who it was that DeMain was honoring.

Ohlsson, however, stole the show.

A giant of a man – he seems even more so standing next to DeMain and to the MSO’s diminutive concert master Naha Greenholtz – Ohlsson dominates both the stage and the concert grand piano.

He played Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2,” a 41-minute long work that fills the concert hall with the piano’s bass notes but also includes very beautiful solos for violin and cello (Greenholtz and cellist Karl Divine performed admirably) and, this time, even I was on my feet before DeMain recognized the other soloists.

  • Lindsay Lohan in court new

    David McNew/Reuters

    Worst celebrity drivers

    NBA star Dwight Howard's Florida driver's license has been suspended after he failed to pay a ticket for running a red light, Reuters reported. In turns out Howard was ticketed an astonishing 10 times for running red lights in the Orlando area, and received four speeding tickets, 12 citations for failing to pay highway tolls and one citation for failing to change his address on his driver's license. Take a look at the worst celebrity drivers.

  • California fires night firefighters

    Noah Berger/Reuters

    Wildfires rage out of control in California

    Hundreds of homes have been destroyed by wildfires raging out of control in drought-stricken California. Thousands more are threatened.

  • Scotland independence crowd

    REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

    Celebs react to Scotland's independence vote

    Scots head to the polls today to vote on the future of their country. The outcome could end Scotland's 307-year union with England and Wales as Great Britain -- and see it launch into the world as an independent nation of some 5.3 million people. Take a look at celebrity (both Scottish and not) reactions to the referendum.