Most weeks, the Milwaukee Symphony performs in Uihlein Hall, with soaring ceilings, 2,000-plus seats, and professionally designed acoustics. This week, the symphony plays in the multipurpose rooms of three retirement homes — but their reception may be even more heartfelt.
MSO to Go is the latest version of a program the orchestra has done for decades, taking its music to places in the community where most people might never hear a live orchestra.
That is part of the symphony’s mission, according to Susan Loris, the MSO’s executive vice president and general manager. “Many of these residents are physically unable to get to the Marcus Center,” she said, “so it’s so important to bring the music to them.”
The symphony keeps a list of about 20 institutions and chooses concert sites each year based on mutually available dates. This week’s concerts are at the Jewish Home; St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care; and St. Camillus Retirement Community.
“It’s the most wonderful experience I’ve had” said Assistant Conductor Yaniv Dinur, who leads the concerts. “People are so touched that we come and play for them. It really makes me happy, going to people who can’t come to us.”
Dinur has programmed about an hour of Ravel, Copland, Tchaikovsky, and Latin American music, with an ear toward accessibility. In between, as with most programs he conducts, he will speak to the audience. “I put in a lot of thought, and I get stressed about it,” he said. “Now everyone in the orchestra expects some jokes.”
Leading so many concerts in so many settings means that Dinur has to be flexible. “I’m very aware of how the audience is responding,” he said. “I have to be ready to change things on the spot.” Last summer at Boerner Botanical Gardens when rain was forecast, he changed the order to play the most popular pieces first; then, as the rain held off, pieces that had been dropped from the program were restored.
As assistant conductor, Dinur leads almost all of the orchestra’s educational and non-traditional concerts, which get less rehearsal time than the weekend concerts in Uihlein Hall. That is one reason he chose familiar pieces, but he always tries to use his time efficiently. While rehearsing, he will ask himself if a problem is worth stopping for, “or can I conduct it in another way, so it can be fixed without me saying anything. A conductor should speak as little as possible and show as much as possible.”
Dinur also serves as the cover conductor, ready to step in if Music Director Edo de Waart or a guest is sick or unable to perform. Earlier this season, he stepped in on less than one day’s notice to conduct the orchestra’s gala concert with violinist Itzhak Perlman. “It was really unforgettable,” said Dinur, who, like Perlman, is an Israeli native. “We talked in Hebrew and we joked.”
Studying scores each week, and watching a parade of different conductors lead the MSO, has been a great learning experience as Dinur finishes his second season. “I learn from every conductor that comes,” he said. But in particular, he called de Waart “such a master with so much experience. He knows what to do, what to listen for and how to fix it.”
The programs in nursing homes and hospitals most often happen in December and are referred to as Hometown Holidays, but this season, the orchestra’s schedule did not allow those visits during the holiday season. “I’m happy we managed to still do it,” Dinur said. “It’s an important part of the MSO’s activities. I don’t know many other orchestras on this level that do something like that.”
Will the MSO to Go concerts continue if the orchestra has full control of its own concert hall in a few years? “Absolutely,” Loris answered. “There are certain things we will always continue to do. We never want to be inside one venue all the time. We always want to turn outward to the community.”