The Fall Classic

You thought I was talking about baseball?

Tonight is the last concert in our fall tour, one of my favorite annual orchestra events. Every year at about this time we go up north and play a few concerts, mostly in places to which we’ve been going for years.

This year was an improvement, as our new Music Director wanted to go along and experience what we experienced (although, in the end, it didn’t quite work out that way.) So, instead of the usual potpourri of light classics and pops, we did a slightly modified version of last week’s subscription concert; the program ended up as the overture to Don Giovanni, the Brahms double with our concertmaster and principal cellist, and the Beethoven 7th. (The first night, however, was a more typical program conducted by our assistant conductor).

We started in Marinette, which is really part of one town, Marinette-Menomonee, except that Menomonee is across the border (and the river) in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula. We’ve been going to Marinette for decades, due largely to the dedication of one local supporter, a retired businessman by the name of Chuck Boyle. We play one light classics program and one morning kiddie concert the next day. The evening concert was made unusually interesting by some activity beneath our feet.

The second day was a perfect late fall day; blue skies, colorful leaves, and very cool temperatures. My ritual is to walk over to the Menomonee waterfront, which faces the arm of Lake Michigan known as Green Bay (the other side of which is Door County, the upper Midwest’s version of Cape Cod), visit the local bookstore, which is one of my favorite bookstores anywhere, and stop in at a house-turned-restaurant facing the water called The Serving Spoon, where I have dessert (this year, raspberry rhubarb pie a la mode). I invariably run into colleagues at the bookstore and the restaurant.

The next day we rode the bus to our traditional hotel in Wausau, as Merrill, the location for the concert, didn’t have any hotels big enough. We were supposed to have a sound check there, but a few weeks ago Edo was asked by the Met to sub for Levine in their new production of Rosenkavalier, and he had a rehearsal in New York that morning, so he flew in by private jet with insufficient time for the sound check. I can’t imagine the kind of cultural whiplash he must have experienced going from conducting at the Met to conducting in a high school auditorium in Merrill, Wisconsin.

The next day (Friday), we left mid-afternoon for Madison, where we were to play at the UW-Madison Student Union (there is a wonderful new hall in Madison, the Overture Center, which cost around $200 million but from which we appear to be barred). The hall at the Union is not great, but they have a wonderful concert series going back decades, with poster backstage to prove it, and a very knowledgeable audience (I went there with the SPCO many times during the Pinky years). Edo had gone back to NY after Merrill for another rehearsal Friday morning, and his flight back to Madison was delayed, so we all had additional time for dinner, and Madison has lots of interesting places to eat.

Yesterday we did a run-out to Naperville IL, where we did the same program in a lovely small hall at North Central College. It’s a long run-out; leave before 5 and get home after midnight. But it was another good concert, and there was a beautiful moon rising over Lake Michigan for our bus ride home.

Tonight is the last concert of the tour; another run-out, this one to Ripon, the birthplace of the Republican Party, where we’ve played for years at Ripon College. Unfortunately we play in a gym, and a rather dead one at that. But there are always goodies backstage at Ripon, the gym is right at the edge of the college surrounded by hills and farms, and there is a skeleton backstage who always ends the evening with some very inappropriate bits of fruit strategically draped on him. And it’s only a 90-minute trip.

(Update: the skeleton was gone! But the goodies were especially good this year (including sandwiches) and the Beethoven was really, really good; dead hall and all.)

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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