Absolutely ideal weather favored the opening program in this summer's Concerts on the Square Wednesday evening. The program this time was entitled "Young at Heart" and presented music that was either reflected youth or was the product of young composers. The masterpiece in that category is surely the overture that Mendelssohn composed, at age 17, to evoke Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream -- appropriate to the occasion in title as well. Music director Andrew Sewell led the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in an appropriately airy rendition.
Next came music that Edward Elgar put together, from miniatures he had composed at age 12, into two suites for modest orchestra called "The Wand of Youth." These are dandy works, full of charm and freshness, and are not performed often enough. From the Suite No. 2, four particularly delicious movements were played.
Youth was brought next by a soloist. Sewell has been mounting the WCO's annual Young Artist Concerto Competitions, giving the winner a chance to perform with the orchestra on the square. This year it was 16-year-old Amy Hua, a student at West High School, and a lively youngster of diverse interests and accomplishments already. She performed the first movement of Grieg's popular Piano Concerto in A minor, displaying a confident technique and a mature musicality. She is the latest brilliant reminder that, truly, "Madison's Got Talent" among its youth.
After the break, the orchestra gave us the "Children's Overture," a bubbly confection by British composer Roger Quilter, made up of nursery tunes. Three contrasting movements, next, from Ravel's "Mother Goose" Suite, showing off the composer's infinite skill in orchestration. Finally, four members of the Madison Ballet, stationed at various points around the performing area, danced to the "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet. No encore this time, Sousa or otherwise.
It seemed to me that behavior standards of the vast throngs who attend these events are continuing to evolve. I perceived more silence and attentiveness than ever from both the lawn patrons and the diners on the esplanade. Some of that might also have been helped by progress of the sound system. I found the volume just a little bit louder and stronger than in prior years. The system's myriad of mikes for the orchestra continued to alter and even distort the balances among the instruments and sections. But I continue to find that fascinating simply because it allows one to hear details, particularly from the winds and inner parts, that are rarely heard in concert-hall acoustics.
The remaining five concerts in the Wednesdays ahead offer ranges of classical, patriotic, popular, cinematic and even bluegrass elements. The final concert, on Aug. 3, will have a Spanish theme, and will show off the splendid concertmaster Suzanne Beia in two movements of Lalo's "Symphonie espagnole."