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A New Tradition for Summer (File Under “Better Late Than Never”)

A New Tradition for Summer (File Under “Better Late Than Never”)

Madison Magazine, Aug. 19, 2014

By Greg Hettmansberger,

I have a dear friend back in California who once said that if you do something two years in a row, you’ve started a tradition. It was a delightful thought to recall as I settled into my seat at the Door County Auditorium last Tuesday night for the start of week two of the Peninsula Music Festival. It was just a year ago this week that I finally experienced the special summer joys of great music indoors, surrounded by the bejeweled natural beauty of Door County—and there were plenty of times this past winter when I counted the days until my next encounter.

Of course, no enterprise survives, let alone thrives, for sixty-two years without some valid traditions at work, and it didn’t take long to find evidence of this. The program book (containing all nine concerts along with superb annotations by Dr. Richard Rodda), listed no fewer than thirteen folks who have been part of the Festival Orchestra for at least twenty-five years—and most of them thirty or more. And some careful reflection revealed a more subtle expression of tradition: The program was Bach and Stravinsky (not the typical fare for most midsummer groups who want to sell tickets), but the DCA was nearly filled to its capacity of about nine hundred seats.

This is an audience which trusts music director and conductor Victor Yampolsky (who himself has been here for twenty-nine years). On this occasion they not only trusted him for the repertoire and soloist, but the one occasion of the summer when there would be a guest conductor at the helm.

Alain Trudel’s reputation is firmly established in Canada, and based on his efforts last week, more of North America may well come to know his ability to create clarity in the cheeky and angular lines of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella ballet suite, and strike the balance between modern sound and Baroque sensibility in the Suite No. 3 of J.S. Bach. And he had two chances to reveal what a sensitive collaborator he is for a soloist.

On this evening, the pianist was not a “name” to me, but in fact was a favorite of PMF audiences, making his fourth festival appearance. Winston Choi is also Canadian, of Korean descent, and his playing was nothing short of revelatory. His first vehicle was the Piano Concerto No. 1 of Bach; in short order, the expression and clean command of Choi’s interpretation hushed any lingering debates about hearing this music on modern instruments. The audience proved its sophistication, giving three long curtain calls (and this piece is not the usual virtuoso splash-maker with built-in standing ovation).

Alas, no encore was forthcoming, but we could look forward to the evening’s close of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments. Preceded by the aforementioned Bach Suite (this is one with the famous and so-called “Air on the G String,” and Trudel moved it along and shaped it beautifully), the Stravinsky is an acerbic work. Yet the crowd not only remained intact, but again delivered three sustained curtain calls and a swift standing ovation for Choi. Again we were left yearning for any further morsel of his insightful artistry…and to look forward to Thursday’s concert. Read all about it tomorrow…and if you’re up there, there are three more concerts this week.