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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Orchestra gives Green Bay’s Weidner Center a pulse

Critic At Large

Weidner Philharmonic

Event image. (Weidner Center)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – The conductor speaks appreciatively of the next work to be performed.

With it, the composer changed everything, he says.

The music was revolutionary.

Symphonies shifted from entertainment to becoming music of self-expression.

The work is music on a large and complex scale, and the composer “never heard a note of it,” the conductor says.

He turns and with his baton launches the orchestra into music he so knows and loves he needs no printed score in front of him to guide him through what essentially is a roiling sea of sound.

The moment is why live music exists, to be heard in a fine concert hall with musicians who know what-for led by a person who cares.

The music is of hairpin turns, of canyons of depth, of gliding streams, of serenity, of controlled tumult, of elegance, of impish playfulness. As it speaks, it says, “I am bigger than you are.”

This is inspiration from 1805, from Ludwig van Beethoven. His Third Symphony. “Eroica” is its nickname.

The conductor is Robert Nordling, who has performed all over the map and now has a pin for Cofrin Family of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He is leading the university’s Weidner Philharmonic, formed to bring symphonic music back into the showcase hall with the corps led by faculty members.

On this evening, Chancellor Michael Alexander places out the welcome mat that was grabbed away from the front door by the filthy grip of COVID-19 on March 12, 2020. That’s the last day the hall hosted a live, in-person performance. “This is not the way we want to be together, necessarily,” he says, referring to masks and spacing of patrons in the hall. But he’s thankful.

The concert program overall is of exploration – four works of varying scales (13 to 30 players) looking into all kinds of nooks and crannies.

The first is edgy energy – “Starburst” by Jessie Montgomery. The first notes are of violin shrillness, and I immediately think “Psycho” with the knifing in the shower. I’m thinking the composer doesn’t want me to write that, wants her notes to be original. But my mind is wired to that image.

Next is Igor Stravinsky in eager bustling and stealth and marching soldiers and regal dancing among myriad musical images of an colorful mind. “Dumbarton Oaks” is the work’s nickname.

For the next work, Robert Nordling tells of the life of composer Darius Milhaud – spanning a vista of compositional styles, sampling sounds everywhere he went and teaching at Mills College in California. The prolific composer’s “The Creation of the World” is about diversity – the world filled by a musical array. The work is akin to making one’s way along a buffet line – something tangy here, meaty there, new to the palate there and with a tantalizing bit of zip at the end.

After intermission is Ludwig by an Beethoven. Robert Nordling puts on a show. Every blessed detail has a different gesture to another musician in the orchestra – a clenching of a hand, a brief point of the baton for a particular single note, a sweeping arc toward the horns in the back. Often, he looks down toward the floor in front of the podium, but there is nothing there but the floor. Maybe he envisions the notes, all those notes in a roiling sea.

***

Program

Weidner Philharmonic: “Welcome Once Again”

Part I

Jessie Montgomery – “Starburst”

Igor Stravinsky – “Concerto in E-Flat (Dumbarton Oaks)”

Darius Milhaud – “La creation du monde (The Creation of the World)”

Part II

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Opus 55 (Eroica)”

***

Orchestra

+ Guest conductor: Robert Nordling

+ Violin I: Luis Fernandez, concertmaster; Audrey Nowak, Emily Sipiorski, Jim Thornton, Shoua Xiong

+ Violin II: Jill Sousek, principal; Jennifer Coopman, Bruce Bowers, Kara McCanna

+ Violas: Jane Bradshaw Finch, principal; Julie Handwerker, Steve Schani, Laura Vandenberg

+ Cello: Michael Dewhirst, principal; Katie Decker, Wendy Scattergood

+ Double bass: Mark Urness, principal; John Smoody

+ Flute: Kortney James, principal; Beth Kinzel

+ Oboe: Jennifer Bryan, principal; Leslie Outland Michelic

+ Clarinets: David Bell, principal; Timberly Kazmarek

+ Bassoon: Susan Lawrence McCardell, principal; Mark Vach

+ Alto saxophone: Ladislava Gaines, principal

+ Horn: Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, principal; Andrew Parks, Annette Eis

+ Trumpet: Adam Gaines, principal; Jamie Waroff

+ Trombone: Kevin Collins, principal

+ Timpani: Bill Sallak, principal

+ Percussion: Elizabeth DeLamater, principal

+ Piano/keyboards: Michael Rector, principal

+ Weidner Philharmonic Advisory Committee: Kevin Collins, Luis Fernandez, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, Randall Meder

+ Musician contractor: Audrey Nowak

+ Music librarian: Kaitlyn Francois

***

NEXT: “Green Bay Nutcracker” with Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization, Nov. 26-27.

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

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