Those who attended our performance on Friday, April 12 experienced the debut of Marc-André Hamelin in Madison, in a program that showcased his incredible talent and passion in pieces both before and after intermission: Strauss’s Burleske and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony and Debussy’s La Mer opened and closed the concert, respectively. Tickets are still available for tonight at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Read the reviews below to find out why this is an experience you don’t want to miss!

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Matt Ambrosio / Capital Times

“…Closing the first half, Richard Strauss’s “Burleske,” a light-hearted single-movement concerto, is not among the composer’s most well-known works, but Hamelin’s rendition made a strong case that it could be. A consummate entertainer, Hamelin maintained a relaxed demeanor whether he was performing a delicate melody or a feverishly raucous passage. This program repeats Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon; for those attending the concert this weekend, I recommend sitting stage right so that you may have a clear view of Hamelin’s acrobatic hands as they fly across the keyboard…

“…If the first act of the concert was a delight, the second act was unbeatable. It began with Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G,” a work which was greatly influenced by the composer’s trip to the United States. To accompany his French impressionistic style, Ravel added American jazz elements to this work, producing a unique sound all his own.

“The second movement was pure magic. It began with a tender and intimate piano solo, establishing a steady pulse that kept the movement grounded even as it felt as if it would float away. Hamelin blended with the MSO beautifully, crafting a musical tapestry. This was without a doubt the most memorable moment of the concert.”

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Greg Hettmansberger / What Greg Says

“…But the star of course is the piano, and Strauss’s work gave Hamelin all the material he would need and then some to demonstrate everything from huge waves of glorious sound to the most delicate filigrees. DeMain and the now-huge ensemble (Strauss composed this around the same time as his breakthrough tone poem, Don Juan) reveled in the sonic splashes. It was no hyperbole when a patron at intermission was overheard to say “That alone was worth the price of admission.”

“While we would agree, it was all the sweeter that we were to be treated by the second half opening of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Composed during 1929-1931, the Ravel had long been an admirer of Gershwin (and vice versa; Gershwin tried unsuccessfully to get Ravel to take him on as a student). Indeed, the outer movements ripple with jazz flourishes and bluesy inflections, the dazzling keyboard part darting in and out of unique instrumental outbursts.”

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Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “Friday’s Concert Was a Happy Night at the MSO”

There are nights that make me happy I am a Madisonian.

One of them was Friday night’s Madison Symphony Orchestra Concert at the Overture Center.

These concerts have a ritual as traditional as that of any church.

The orchestra comes in and is seated. Just before the concert begins, Ann Bowen, general manager of the MSO walks on stage and arranges the score for conductor John DeMain.

Then concertmaster Naha Greenholtz walks on stage to polite applause, followed by DeMain, dressed in white tie and tails, strides to the podium to sustained applause.

Friday night, the audience jumped the gun and started applauding Bowen, much to the amusement of both Bowen and the orchestra and, finally the audience. She arranged DeMain’s music and, when she started to depart the stage, the audience broke into more applause – and then did so every time she came back on stage between orchestral works.

It was just an audience, which sometimes seems to take itself far too seriously, having fun and it set the stage for an enjoyable evening.

The featured artist at this weekend’s three concerts is pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, who is making his Madison debut. He played two pieces, Richard Strauss’ “Burleske” and Maurice Ravel’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.”

He was a crowd favorite, receiving standing ovations for both works but, also, in the spirit of the evening, seemed to be a very nice man. While the audience was applauding him, he spent a fair amount of time turning and applauding the orchestra behind him.

He had good reason. Each piece involves some unusual coordination between artist and orchestra. In “Burleske,” for example, the theme is set by a timpani solo. The soloist can’t just do his thing; he has to interact with everyone else.

The concerts, which continue Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, begin Mozart’s “Prague” symphony and conclude with Debussy’s “La Mer,” both somewhat light pieces that contributed to an atmosphere of restrained fun at the symphony.

John Barker / The Isthmus: “Piano perfection: Soloist Marc-André Hamelin joins MSO for a dazzling evening of surprises”

The guest soloist for this month’s Madison Symphony Orchestra program is pianist Marc-André Hamelin. He is an extraordinarily virtuosic player, which contrasts the more with his self-contained playing manner.

Not content with one vehicle, he brought two. The first is a most unusual choice, the Burleske by Richard Strauss. This was a product of his youthful apprenticeship. One does not associate Strauss with the concerto form (though he also wrote a violin concerto, and later ones for winds), and his ambivalence is suggested in the title he eventually chose.

What is a burlesque but a spoof or a parody? By pitting a hugely demanding piano part against a timpanist (who has the first and last notes), Strauss is all but mocking the idea of an all-dominant soloist. The timpanist teases and jabs the pianist, as if stealing the show, in the equivalent of a concerto first movement that runs a good 20 minutes. Well, Hamelin does put up a glorious fight.

The other vehicle, after the intermission, is Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G. Relatively compact, it packages a dreamy middle movement between two brash ones. Those represent Ravel’s very personal assimilation of African-American jazz and blues, which were all the rage among French musician in the 1920s. Again, Hamelin’s playing is simply dazzling.

Hamelin is clearly one of the great pianists of our day.

In further generosity, he also plays an encore — on Friday evening it was Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-sharp minor.

At either end of the program, the orchestra has its own opportunities to shine. Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D (KV 504) generally languishes in the shadows of Nos. 39, 40 and 41, regarded as the plateau of greatness. But No. 38 belongs with them, as perhaps the most unconventional and innovative of his mature symphonies. Known as the “Prague Symphony,” it was named after his favorite city, where his operas were great hits. Appropriately, operatic qualities bubble over here, too.

And, at the end there is Claude Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea). Forget about the clichés of “Impressionism”—a term the composers and painters labeled with it rightly detested. By evoking the sea, which had a lifelong fascination for him, Debussy was initiating Modern Music, with its restrictions on thematic material in favor of rhythms and colors. Conductor John DeMain and his players give their all for rousing sonority.

The program is repeated Saturday evening April 13 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday April 14 at 2 p.m.

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