For decades Alexander Hamilton has been my favorite Founding Father. His personal drive and energy, his rise to power, his intellect, his concern about populism and unbridled passions, and his ability to write are all reasons Hamilton is favored above the others. With great eagerness, James and I have tickets for Hamilton, coming to Madison’s Overture Hall for 24 performances. We might even don white wigs for the night!
In preparation for what will be the largest money-making performance (over $6 million) at Overture, the Wisconsin State Journal is reporting some interesting stories connected to the national icon.
He was educated for a time at West Point, became a skilled surveyor and drove cattle from central Illinois through the wilderness to feed hungry troops in what is now Green Bay.
William Stephen Hamilton later came to what is now Lafayette County in 1828 to mine lead. He also ran a grocery store, established a post office and built a school, as well as a fort to fend off intruders during the Black Hawk War.
William Hamilton’s contribution to Wisconsin’s history is noteworthy, even if there is no musical in the works about him.
Instead, there are at least two books, countless newspaper articles, letters, maps and a mural in front of Zimmerman Cheese at the corner of Mineral Street and Highway 78 in Wiota. The Wisconsin Historical Society even has a set of sleigh bells given to William Hamilton by his mother, Eliza, at the age of 80 or 81, who made an arduous journey from New York in the late 1830s to visit her son at his mining operation — known then as Hamilton’s Diggings, not Wiota.
Not for the first time do I express deep delight and profound gladness that Madison has Overture Center for the Arts, which contains the most impressive Overture Hall. Over the years I have pressed for city funding and am glad programming allows for a wide variety of performances to be staged, and ticket prices to reflect all varying sections of our population. Every place in America–that already does not have such a facility–would love to have what downtown Madison possesses.
The chorus for “Symphony of a Thousand” is so big, there’s only one place in the Overture Center for its 300-plus singers to do their vocal warm-ups before a concert: the loading dock.
The orchestra is so huge, the side “choral towers” in place for a more typical concert have to be pushed back to make room on the Overture Hall stage.
That’s some of what it takes to squeeze more than 100 orchestral musicians, two adult choruses, a children’s choir and eight guest vocalists into Madison’s largest symphony hall to perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in E flat — better known as “Symphony of a Thousand.”
“It’s a real blockbuster,” said Beverly Taylor, choral professor at UW-Madison and director of the Madison Symphony Chorus, who’s been rehearsing the 165-member Madison Symphony Chorus and the 140-member UW Choral Union separately for the event since January.
Mahler’s eighth, to be performed three times in the 2,159-seat Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra from May 3-5, is a monumental undertaking, selected to close out MSO conductor John DeMain’s 25th season with the orchestra.
Over the years James and I have not always taken a yearly vacation, but we always have season tickets to the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I will be first to acknowledge my learning continues with classical music, but never has a performance failed to refresh, amaze, or emotionally move me while watching and listening. That is the power of an orchestra.
Madison has every reason to be proud of their continued faithfulness to Overture. In return, the consistency in fine performances at Overture has never lost faith with those it serves.
Two weeks ago I attended my first Broadway show. Jersey Boys performed at Overture Hall and James and I enjoyed every moment. While I have seen countless plays, concerts, and performances of one stripe or another over the decades that show simply blew me away. There is so much to be respected and admired with men and women who use their talents and spirit to sing, dance, and act. There is so much work with sets and production and lighting. I was moved by the experience in ways words are hard to convey.
About a decade ago I saw my first opera and that music and power of performance was so impressive I wanted to have that type of light from the performing arts in my life on a more regular basis. We have made a good effort at doing that over the years. While watching Jersey Boys I thought back on my childhood when I wished for the experiences of this kind. The Phantom Of The Opera is only a month away!
The reason this city has the ability to attract such performances to sold-out audiences is due to the Overture Center. It remains a jewel of this city. As a I watched the show I thought about the young people in attendance and wondered if perhaps one of them would be so moved by the sights and sounds to want to have a life on the stage. That is the ultimate power of such performances in the transformative power they can create.
A local dentist put in $12,500. A venture capitalist was good for $1.4 million. There were a literary agent, a psychotherapist and a smattering of doctors, lawyers and academics, all investing together in a promising musical at their hometown theater that was seeking a shot at Broadway.
That small posse from San Diego ended up pooling a significant portion of the $7.8 million necessary to deliver one of the most popular Broadway musicals in recent decades, “Jersey Boys.”
And these novices did something that most theater investors never do: Made big money. Roughly three out of four Broadway shows fail financially, even though many of them are backed by entertainment industry pros.
As “Jersey Boys” closes in New York on Sunday — the 12th-longest-running show in Broadway history — those early investors from California have made back many times what they put into the show, which has grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. The San Diego investors are now mourning the end of a production they first saw at the La Jolla Playhouse that has since become a major part of their lives.
Dr. Richard Harmetz, the dentist who started with a $12,500 investment and continued to put money into subsequent productions, estimated his profit at $250,000 to $300,000. Edward and Martha Dennis, a biochemistry professor and venture capitalist who started with a $10,000 investment, estimated a similar return.
“When we tell people we’ve made 22 times our investment, their eyes get big, like they did with tech investing,” Ms. Dennis said. “They have to lose four or five small investments before they realize it’s not so easy. ‘Jersey Boys’ is such a unicorn.”
A spokesman for the show said that profitability estimate was too high but did not offer an alternative figure. The lead producers, a New York-based partnership called the Dodgers, would not discuss their financing.
“Jersey Boys” is in some ways an example of how Broadway shows are financed: The industry is rooted in New York, but many plays and musicals have financial backers who live around the world — theater enthusiasts with an appetite for risk and a taste for show business.
This weekend it all began anew with the opening of the season for the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The main draw was Gustav Holst’s The Planets. To say it was spectacular would be appropriate if the word was then underlined ten times in bright red ink. A massive orchestra with chairs placed tightly to allow for a powerful performance–even the tall pipes required a stepladder to play. With just small LED lights on the stands so the music sheets could be seen the main stage lights went off for a 50 minute film using images from various sources including the Hubble which was projected on a huge screen which was hung over the pipes for the organ—which was also played.
As I watched this all play out a most unusual and secondary show took place. James and I always sit on the second mezzanine balcony so from there the images from the conductor was most artistic. With all the lights out and only a very dimmed floodlight on the conductor from above and off to his left it then created his shadow on the stage floor of his arms moving along with his back and forth movements. It was akin to how Alfred Hitchcock used shadows in his films—it was simply art all by itself apart from what I was hearing.
At the ending of The Planets I thought—(I am always choreographing things in my head) the chorus should have small lights that resembled stars and walked out from various points among the audience. Instead they were off stage with only a sliding type door opened to allow for their voices to be added to the show. I really thought the way they performed was really lacking volume and presentation. But then I got home and as usual James and I started talking about the performance and he located online the following which blew my idea apart.
“Neptune” was one of the first pieces of orchestral music to have a fade-out ending, although several composers (including Joseph Haydn in the finale of his Farewell Symphony) had achieved a similar effect by different means. Holst stipulates that the women’s choruses are “to be placed in an adjoining room, the door of which is to be left open until the last bar of the piece, when it is to be slowly and silently closed”, and that the final bar (scored for choruses alone) is “to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance”. Although commonplace today, the effect bewitched audiences in the era before widespread recorded sound—after the initial 1918 run-through, Holst’s daughter Imogen (in addition to watching the charwomen dancing in the aisles during “Jupiter”) remarked that the ending was “unforgettable, with its hidden chorus of women’s voices growing fainter and fainter… until the imagination knew no difference between sound and silence”.
The less I know means the more I need to learn. And so it goes.
It was reported that all three performances were sold out this weekend. Overture Hall has over 2,200 seats. Madison can be proud for having such a place where wonderful music and memories are created.
I suspect some will think my headline over the top. But in fact there is no other way to describe this weekend’s concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra than to say nothing like it has been seen or heard or felt before by this attendee. It is hard to imagine anything more powerful being presented.
The concert stage was bursting with people and instruments in such a manner that it would have been hard to pack more onto it–though Overture Hall can accommodate massive productions. I am not sure there was a single empty seat last night–meaning more than 2,200 people were dazzled–as I was–with two concert pianos, the concert organ, the harpsicord, harp, the entire orchestra, 300 voices from the Symphony Chorus and the Madison Boychoir, along with three special guests (soprano, tenor, baritone), a chime that required climbing a ladder so to ring, and electronics that allowed for the sound of nightingales to be heard.
I am not exaggerating when I say this was a huge production!
James and I have been ticket holders for the symphony since 2008 and in that time have heard lots of music, been thrilled with the chorus, and walked away many times pleased beyond measure.
But when The Pines Of Rome opened Saturday night and John DeMain conducted for the full illumination of the music, or some of the brass instruments were positioned near the box seats (where James and I sit) something powerful happened. I not only heard the music—instead I felt it. There was a determination by all those working on stage to make a memory that was meant to linger long after the last note faded. I was stunned by the enormity of the sound and the energy of the delivery.
The second half of the evening was equally powerful as Carmina Burana was presented with perhaps the most impressive and expressive voice being that of Keith Phares, the baritone singer. The Boychoir was so well trained and walked in and out with poise–so expressive with their eagerness to sing–even after a long wait (by the standards of restless boys) to make their voices heard.
I have long advocated for the Overture, knowing it is a special place in our city. We have a symphony orchestra that is a dynamic and well-respected operation along with a place so beautiful where music can be created and heard. We all have a true cultural environment on the Madison isthmus.
And this weekend that fact was proven.
Thanks to all the creative forces and talent who make such a production possible. See you next season.
The latest pointed remark I heard about Overture Center For The Arts–one of Madison’s jewels in the downtown–came from Mayor Paul Soglin during last night’s election debate. Once again the old refrain was offered that the lack of diversity from those attending performances at the center was somehow a foundational problem that justified attempts to appropriate fewer tax dollars in the city budget. Over time there have also been attempts to portray Overture tickets as over-priced and the center not user-friendly to a larger segment of our city.
That is simply a ridiculous way to look at the situation.
I placed a call to the Overture ticket office today to inquire about the lowest price tickets that one might request so to listen to the magic created by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. For $16.00 a person can buy a ticket. If you are student there is a reduction, and if you are a senior citizen there is a 20% reduction. There are also great deals on ‘rush tickets’ the day of a performance.
Simply put there is no way to claim that people can not attend the Symphony–as an example–or to use Overture. That argument is not one that sails.
Several years ago my partner and I wanted to attend plays that were presented at Overture. We were still paying off our home improvement bills from when we moved in and therefore sought out a different path. Instead of paying full ticket price for an actual performance we bought a season’s worth of final dress rehearsal shows. We were even seated in the front row. Every other month James and I had a really nice night out and loved the experience on a budget.
The arts matter in our lives as I know it does for a wide swatch of Madison. I also am aware that it takes prioritizing budgets and desires to make any entertainment outing doable. We all know people who have no problem buying sporting tickets, attending movies with the purchase of popcorn, and carry their portable electronic gadgets and cell phones at all times and yet have the gall to complain they can not afford tickets to a performance at Overture.
It all comes down to what is important to us as individuals.
So to then have the mayor over and over again paint Overture as some elitist and over-priced whites-only playground is truly offensive.
There is not a city our size in the nation that would not drool heavy for the chance to have a performing arts center of the type we enjoy. Or the fact that this building was presented to the city as a gift! There is a not place in the nation that would not love to have our symphony orchestra or our chamber orchestra play in such a building. Yet there is the chorus from some that Overture is a place for rich white people.
There is no way to deny the benefits that the arts provides to a community with continuing economic energy. I would argue even more importantly the arts provides to individuals texture about life, awakening of the senses, and adds insight about how we feel and interact with sights and sounds. In a nutshell the arts are essential to being a well-rounded person, and makes for a harmonious community.
I would hope that all our local elected officials–starting with the mayor–might come to the understanding of what the arts provide and how we should all embrace Overture and what it gives to our city.
It would be interesting to know which political constituencies politicians kneel to when offering ideas. In the case of Madison Alderwoman Lisa Subeck her desire to reduce funding for the Overture Center was clearly not intended to assist the city, so one has to wonder whose bread she was hoping to butter by her actions.
Subeck had offered an amendment to reduce funding for Overture from Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposed budget of $1.75 million dollars for 2015 to $1.6 million. Never mind that Soglin’s budget is still far shy of the $2 million annual payment that had once been pledged by the city. Never mind the negative consequences that would have accompanied such an action when it came to private fundraising if once again a budget battle sprayed out negative headlines in the press.
Subeck’s amendment was sure to drive a wedge into the city council and create lots of unneeded strife. In the end she withdrew the amendment before the Board of Estimates would have gladly chucked it into the trash.
But Subeck should not get off easy for taking her proposal and tossing it aside. She still needs to be held accountable for coming to the wrong conclusions regarding Overture in the first place.
What drives Subeck and others like her to always find a way at undermining Overture remains a mystery to me. I often hear that those who oppose Overture do so based on a severely misguided notion that there are ‘not enough shows for the average person’ priced so ‘everyone can participate in enjoying the performances’.
That is just pure horse-rot.
I often tell James we are rich, and he instantly responds that since he likes to balance the checkbooks we certainly are not. He knows my definition of being rich has far more to do with enjoying life and not about accumulating money. One of the things we do to enjoy life is by being subscribers to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and so we see a show during the season each month. In addition we take in other performers such as the Choir of Westminster Abbey.
I can assure my readers that the average person to these shows–which nearly fill Overture Hall–are not made up of aloof stuffy elitist snobs. The people who sit and enjoy music are the same folks who stop at Culvers after shopping at the mall just before heading to the grocery store to buy groceries they then go home to prepare for a meal. These folks are our friends, neighbors, and fellow residents of Madison. We just all happen to firmly believe that the arts matter, and society is richer–there is that word again–with having a flourishing arts community.
People who use Overture for their political gain, as I am most sure Subeck tried to do, miss the importance that Overture gives to this city. The Overture is a powerhouse for economic activity, and the data proves it. Any one of our neighboring cities would jump through rings of fire to have the chance for such an arts center, and the benefits that come from it.
Perhaps if there was a way to tie reproductive rights to Overture funding Lisa Subeck could come to that realization too.
Meanwhile many people in Madison are very thankful to the other alders who pushed Subeck on this matter and let it be known that Overture funding matters to many rank-and-file folks in this city.
Good news came from the Madison Board of Estimates this week when it was reported that $150,000 in additional funding was provided for the Overture Center. The funding for Overture is now at $1.6 million for the this city budget. Thankfully funding is not a political piñata as it was last year at this time. Though there is roughly $150,000 less in city funding this year than last the lack of rancor led by Mayor Paul Soglin has been greeted with smiles all around.
Even though there is mostly harmony among those fashioning a city budget there is angst and disagreements from some in the electorate as to the level of funding that the Overture receives. As much as I have listened as some try to spin their point of view it never makes any sense.
There is not a city our size in the nation that would not drool heavy for the chance to have a performing arts center of the type we enjoy. Or the fact that this building was presented to the city as a gift. There is a not place in the nation that would not love to have our symphony orchestra or our chamber orchestra play in such a building. Yet there is the chorus from some that the Overture is a place for rich white people.
There is no way to deny the benefits that the arts provides to a community with continuing economic energy. I would argue even more importantly ihe arts provides to individuals texture about life, awakening of the senses, and adds insight about how we feel and interact with sights and sounds. In a nutshell the are essential to being a well-rounded person, and a harmonious community.
As such I very much favor the path that was taken this year by the leaders of Madison to make sure funding was allowed without the tension as to why it is necessary.
I am sure many will not agree with the majorities assessment about the need for Overture receiving city funding. I just happen to feel the arts are something that society should support, as it does make us better as a people
I also reject the idea from some that there are no shows ‘they can afford’. That is just absurd on the face of it.
I recently had a conversation with someone who tried to make that case to me. It might have been more persuasive had I not already known that several times a month this person goes to movies and enjoys popcorn and pop while the motion picture plays. I love film too , and certainly think movies are a great way to spend time. But if one adds up the amount of money that person spent on films in a month it quickly becomes clear that there was money for a ticket to the Madison symphony.
The same might be said for the person has season tickets for the Badgers, or spends 30 dollars on a Saturday night at the bar for drinks and tips.
It all comes down to priorities.
While everyone can have the fun in the way they desire, I find it unacceptable to have it argued that tickets to Overture events are too costly when spending money on other forms of entertainment is not a problem.
At the end of this budget cycle I hope our leaders will come to appreciate the calm that was the result of coming together to form an understanding about the need for Overture funding.