A Concert Series for the Ages

Wisconsin Union Theater program cover: Paul Robeson, October 21, 1940.

Wisconsin Union Theater

The Wisconsin Union Theater’s 100th anniversary Concert Series had to be special. How to do justice to a century’s worth of legendary classical music performers, from contralto Marian Anderson to bass Paul Robeson to the Emerson String Quartet? How to honor the longest-running series of its kind in the Midwest — the jewel in the crown of UW cultural events?

As always, the theater let students take the lead. Three years ago, Amanda Venske x’21 began cochairing a committee tasked with assembling a 2019–20 Concert Series for the ages. The committee included patrons, community advocates, alumni, and School of Music faculty, along with the celebrated musicians Wu Han and David Finckel, who served as artistic advisers. Meanwhile, longtime Wisconsin Union Theater director Ralph Russo provided expertise in attracting musical giants to a midsized college town.

The result is a concert series people may be talking about 100 years from now. The world-class performers are vocal ensemble Chanticleer (October 6), pianist Emanuel Ax (November 2), pianist Wu Han with the UW Symphony Orchestra (March 7), violinist Gil Shaham with pianist Akira Eguchi (March 28), and superstar soprano Renée Fleming (May 2). As if that weren’t enough, the new David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Series also features the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (December 6), the Escher String Quartet (January 25), and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (March 5).

“The concert series has always aimed for the highest quality, but we’ve taken it up a notch in this celebratory year,” says Russo, who recently retired. “We have so many beloved performers that devoted classical music fans are likely to treat these events like rock concerts.”

Two performances in this year’s concert series will take place in the School of Music’s new Hamel Music Center, which officially opens October 25–27. The series has always maintained a close connection with the School of Music, allowing students to interact with top performers in master classes or open rehearsals.

“The School of Music can tell prospective students that this is a place where you’ll hear great musicians like Joshua Bell or Hilary Hahn in intimate Shannon Hall,” says Russo. “And not only hear them, but perhaps even meet them.”

Published in the Fall 2019 issue

Tags: Arts, music, Union

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