Student Review: Milwaukee Symphony Welcomes Guests

By Brian Sullivan, Senior

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and all classical music performers face a unique challenge among artists. They have to take something that is by definition old and make it new, make it interesting. In its recent performance, “Mozart Plus Handel’s Royal Fireworks,” the MSO took on that challenge and, with four different pieces, achieved varying levels of success. Conducted by Christopher Seaman, each piece was technically proficient but some had more life than others.

The performance opened with Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, whose composition history is more interesting than the number itself. Handel composed it for a concert celebrating the end of the War of Austrian Succession. While a bit dull at times, Fireworks was a solid introduction to the orchestra that showed off the various musicians’ considerable talents. The main problem may have been that with an overture and five movements, it went on for a bit too long. In the end, though, it turned out to be a warm-up for the main attraction.

Christina and Michelle Naughton took the stage looking every bit the part of concert pianists, despite their young age. Dressed in gowns and exhibiting supreme confidence, they gave the feeling that there is nowhere they belong more than sitting at a piano. The Naughton sisters are Madison natives who have been playing piano since they were four. Now in college, they have travelled the world performing as a piano-playing superduo. After meeting with them and seeing them perform, it’s clear that this is not a life pushed on them by fame-hungry stage parents. Music is in their blood and when they’re playing together, it shows.

With the full orchestra behind them, the Naughtons took on Mozart’s “Concerto in E-Flat minor” and put on a dazzling show. The notes sprang from the stage often faster than I thought was possible. Anyone who thinks classical music is staid and reserved needs to see Christina and Michelle in action. Both girls throw their entire bodies into their music, moving around and twisting their faces with emotion as their fingers tap away at the keys.

The way the girls are arranged on stage adds to the piece’s success. Positioned across from one another, with two pianos in between, they seemed to directing their furious music at one another. At times they were not just playing a piece of music, they were battling with one another. It’s no wonder that they performed right before intermission. After the whirlwind of the dueling pianos the audience probably needed to catch its collective breath.

The Naughtons’ performance was undoubtedly the highlight of the concert, but the rest was still highly enjoyable. After intermission, the orchestra once again played backup. This time it was to Todd Levy, a clarinet soloist who took on Stamitz’s “Concerto for Clarinet in B-flat major.” This was a much more low-key number compared to what the Naughton girls put on, but Levy handled his duties ably. The clarinet solo portions often had a dream-like quality where the music drifted past amiably.

While the show peaked with the Naughtons at the end of the first act, it still finished strongly with the last selection, Haydn’s “Symphony No. 100 in G major, “Military.”’ With a name like that, one might prepare himself for a booming, celebratory piece, and while the finale had such moments, it didn’t get carried away. There were quieter moments to balance out the louder ones. It was particularly exhilarating to go from the entire booming orchestra down to the clanging of one triangle and back again. As the piece ended, it felt as though we’d been on an emotional journey and ended up somewhere else.

The finale was similar to the performance overall: a blend of different styles that each has interesting things to offer and which works well as a whole.

Brian Sullivan is currently a student in Dr. Pamela Nettleton’s ‘Critical Writing About the Arts course’ in the Diederich College of Communication. This review originally was written as an art criticism class assignment.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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