Noises off week in Wisconsin

So we’re in Marinette – right across the river from Menomonee, Michigan, the Banana Belt of the Upper Penninsula (where Yoopers come from) – playing a concert at Blesch High School, where the signs say “Catch the Blesch Spirit!” (and no I’m not kidding). We’re well into the slow movement of the Mendelssohn “Italian” symphony when all of a sudden loud banging noises erupt from beneath our feet, shaking the stage. We get to the end of the movement, with no cessation of bangs. So I signal the conductor, walk off stage, and ask our staff a polite version of “WTF?”

Inquiries establish that it’s only the (new!?) furnace coming on; the bangs are the steam in the pipes. That was only mildly reassuring; instead of being blown up by the local Al-Queda cell, we were going to be fried in a steam explosion.

And then the noises stopped. So I rushed back on stage so as not to miss any more of the Mendelssohn, which began (after apologies to the audience) by skipping the third movement. As the third movement makes my hand hurt, this felt like fair compensation for the bangs.

What is going on in the Upper Midwest this week? Have we been invaded by the Bang on a Can Festival?

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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