Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bells, quiet moments help Milwaukee Symphony show off sonic beauty of its hall

Published on May 18, 2024 by Jim Higgins       |      Share this post!

“Masur could hardly have chosen a more fitting program to show off the acoustic hospitality of
the MSO’s newish home court.”

Some of the most exciting moments of Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s concert Friday
evening were the quietest ones.

At very end of Tōru Takemitsu’s “From me flows what you call Time,” music director Ken-
David Masur, the orchestra and guest musicians waited for ringing bells arrayed like chimes to come to a silent halt. The audience, too, listened attentively without coughing or rustling as
sound slowly ebbed away, giving Allen-Bradley Hall the mien of a cathedral.

Masur could hardly have chosen a more fitting program to show off the acoustic hospitality of
the MSO’s newish home court. Only in the final, dessert-like serving of Paul Dukas’ “The
Sorcerer’s Apprentice” did the orchestra actually play loud. Instead, Friday’s program often
allowed us to hear the timbre of a single instrument, or appreciate the natural decay of a note
as it dissipated in the air.

The music began with Dukas’ bright yet mellow fanfare for his ballet score “La Peri,” played
by the MSO’s horns and brass. That gave audience members time to absorb the crazy
spectacle onstage: several percussion stations with dozens of instruments, and a pair of five
long colored ribbons leading from center stage to bells temporarily installed in balcony boxes
on either side of the hall.

Takemitsu’s concerto began with a short flute figure by principal flutist Sonora Slocum. Then
Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion (Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, David
Skidmore) and fellow percussionist John Corkill, wearing colored shirts to match the
ribbons, entered slowly playing tiny instruments, as if enacting a ritual.

Once ensconced onstage, the five turned to a dizzying variety of objects, including Noah bells,
steel drum, temple bowls and crotales. While two percussionists enjoyed a brief drum battle,
Takemitsu’s composition emphasizes quality of sound over power or volume. On the two
occasions when percussionists played the balcony bells by grabbing the ribbons, audience
heads shifted upward in wonder at this sound from an unusual place.

The women of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus joined the orchestra for Debussy’s gentle
“Nocturnes.” While the mythological Sirens may have lured sailors to their doom, the
graceful, wordless singing of the choristers in Debussy’s “Sirènes” (“Sirens”) section could
lure all of us to lower blood pressure and a calmer resting heart rate.