Review: Bianconni Returns to Madison Symphony

Opera review: ‘Don Giovanni’ a treat for the senses

By William R. Wineke Special to Channel 3000

MADISON, Wis. — I’ve said it before, I know, but there’s something about the way John DeMain strides to the podium of the Madison Symphony Orchestra that sets up the anticipation of a thrilling night of music.

The style is neither grandiose nor folksy, but DeMain conveys the image that he is in charge of a superb body of musicians ? and then he goes on to prove it.

The audience at Friday night’s opening performance ? the MSO will play again tonight and on Sunday afternoon ? was no doubt primed to expect quality. The featured soloist, French pianist Philippe Bianconi, was making his fourth appearance with the orchestra. He previously played here in 2001 and 2010 and he is, obviously a popular guest.

Right from the beginning, when the MSO played Kevin Puts’ 2010 piece, ?Inspiring Beethoven,? the music was electric. It is an interesting piece. Puts tries to describe in music the process Beethoven, becoming increasingly deaf, went through as he composed his Seventh Symphony. The Puts rendition involves a lot of cacophony until, seemingly out of the blue, the major theme of the symphony appears.

But that’s pretty much the way the creative process works. One fumbles around discarding idea after idea until an inspiration strikes. After that, it is mostly a matter of editing out what doesn’t belong.

Bianconi followed with real Beethoven, the ?Concerto No. 4 for Piano and Orchestra,? a familiar piece expertly played. As I said earlier, we like Bianconi in Madison and he seems comfortable with us, too.

But the real star of the evening was the MSO’s new concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz, who had a long solo in the Richard Strauss tone poem “Ein Heldenladen.”

The English translation is ?The Hero’s Life,? and many musical experts assume Strauss saw himself as the hero. The Greenholtz solo came in the third movement, ?The Hero’s Companion,? as her violin assumed the companion role. It was beautifully and movingly done and Greenholtz deserved the wave of applause she received.

The Strauss piece demands a fair amount from the audience, which is responsible for conjuring up the story that the poem tells musically. The fact it does so and the audience responds is one more piece of evidence that our MSO continues to improve and become just a bit sharper each new season.