Concert Review: Denyce Graves & the MSO

On November 3 -- yes, almost two weeks ago -- I went to see the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform. The guest artist this month was Denyce Graves, the fantastic mezzo- soprano I first heard because of her appearances on "Sesame Street" and "Between the Lions." She's classy, amazing, and supports educational television!

First, the concert music. Sexy old man John DeMain conducted Brahms' Tragic Overture and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, neither of which had I heard previously. The Brahms piece is, well, tragic. I loved the string section. The Shostakovich symphony, although a little long in places, just blew me away. Take that, Stalin!! I understand and appreciate the subtlety of chamber orchestras and small ensembles, but something AMAZING happens when every friggin' musician in the state (it seemed) plays all at once. The symphony is gigantic, and parts of it felt like an airplane taking off. At one point, the strings break into eight independent melodies: three violin sections, two celli and viola sections, and one for bass. This work would be very useful in demonstrating layers of harmony and the sonic role of various string instruments.

As for Ms. Graves, I think she inspired the definition of "diva." Regal, cool, powerful -- even DeMain seemed a little awed by her stage presence. Best of all, since I do have the BEST SEAT EVER™™, I heard her actual voice -- without the need for microphones -- and got an up-close look at her jaw-dropping gowns. I do not study historic fashion, but imagine the hip-padded posh costumes in Amadeus. Her first was like that, but more svelte and covered in gold beads. Then imagine it again in periwinkle brocade and studded with crystals. She sang pretty well, too (wink). I enjoyed comparing her performance to that of Edgar Meyer last month. Both are among the best in the world at what they do, and yet so vastly different. Great!

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