Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra turns back the calendar for an all-American concert of George Gershwin and 1930s music

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Friday evening’s Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performance in the Bradley Symphony Center felt like a wander back in time.

Playing under the baton of music director Ken-David Masur and joined by pianist Aaron Diehl, the orchestra delivered the final installment in a three-weekend festival of music of the 1930s, a time when the former movie palace had just opened.

The evening’s fare of American music included pieces by such familiar figures as George Gershwin and Charles Ives as well as gems by Florence Price and William Grant Still.

Brilliantly programmed, the concert featured five distinctly American pieces that were each distinctly different in sound.

The concert’s big finish was Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody for piano and orchestra. A pastiche of music he wrote for the 1930 film "Delicious," but was left on the cutting room floor, the piece is tuneful, catchy, engaging and fun to hear, much like its sibling, the more famous Rhapsody in Blue.

Diehl gave an energized performance, playing with a wide range of colors, sounds and moods, along with fluid facility and musical freedom that made much of it sound like inspired improvisation.

Diehl also joined the orchestra for Price’s delicious Piano Concerto in D minor. The stirring concerto is constructed of gorgeous melodic lines, elegant jazz-inspired harmonies, and articulate dialogs between sections of the orchestra and between the players and the piano. Diehl’s deeply expressive playing and some lovely oboe solos delivered by MSO assistant principal oboist Kevin Pearl were among the highlights.

Still’s exquisite "Out of the Silence" brought Diehl to the stage for a third time, making the piece sound like an orchestral art song. His lyrical, colorful, beautifully shaped phrases were artfully supported by Masur and the players, including sparkling solo flute lines played by MSO principal flutist Sonora Slocum.

More: Milwaukee Symphony principal flutist Sonora Slocum takes the lead on new recording

Ives’ "Three Places in New England" began the concert with three vivid vignettes of American life. Ives was a masterful orchestrator, a fact Masur and the orchestra brought to life with a beautifully textured, nuanced performance.

Masur and the players opened the concert’s second half with a performance of Barber’s Symphony No. 1, built of four movements played without pause, which absolutely glowed in the resonant, orchestra-friendly acoustic of the new hall. From delicate, introspective lines to grand crescendos, the orchestra’s sound and the sounds of individual players and sections were present, clear, balanced and musically articulate.

This MSO will repeat the program at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at 212 W. Wisconsin Ave.

For ticket information visit or call the MSO box office at 414-291-7605.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra turns back the calendar for an all-American concert of George Gershwin and 1930s music

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