Concert will be a classic for Austin

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 7, 2003

What do Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and "The Little Train That Could" have in common?

Answer: the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra is the personification of the pluck and perseverance of the train of children's limerick fame.

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Like the tiny train that thought it could climb to the top of the mountain, so, too, has the orchestra had to prove to itself and others that it could succeed.

Thank goodness it has succeeded for so long -- 46 years to be exact.

That means, the music of the most prolific composer of classical style music of the late 1700s will be resurrected.

The operas, symphonies, church and other

music of the composer rivaled only by Joseph Haydn will be reincarnated.

The man, who died

at the age of 36 with more than 600 works to his credit, Mozart, will be reborn Sunday under the baton of conductor Stephen J. Ramsey.

The Austin Symphony Orchestra under Ramsey's direction will perform "A Mozart Festival" 2 p.m. Sunday in the Richard L. Knowlton Auditorium at Austin High School.

The concert features the 140 voices of the Austin High School Concert Choir and the Austin Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Amazing Amadeus

Hyperbole aside, "genius" is the only extravagant exaggeration that applies to Mozart.

Listen to conductor Ramsey describe the composer. "Such a special composer" …. "To his acquaintances he was a formidable genius" …. and "a man of the stature and quality of a Nobel Prize laureate."

Remember, Beethoven was one of his acquaintances.

Ramsey, conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra for nine years, is looking forward to Sunday's program.

The ebullient Ramsey is part-maestro and part-teacher on the stage. Sunday's concert audience will hear Ramsey "bring people into the story behind the music."

There is much to tell.

Of Mozart's "Overture to LaClemenza di Tito," Ramsey said the overture inspired by a Shakespeare play was Mozart's last opera and originally a "rather dramatic piece." Veteran orchestra-goers will note this is the first time in a generation "The Titus" is being performed.

Of Mozart's "Te Deum," Ramsey said Sunday's audience will hear an "adult hymn of praise," that, legend has it, was the result of a spontaneous exchange between saints.

Of Mozart's "Regina Coelli," Ramsey said to expect an "Easter antiphon" that translates to "Queen of Heaven Rejoice."

Of Mozart's Symphony No. 35 – The Haffner" and the program-ending "Coronation Mass," Ramsey said the audience will be treated to, perhaps, Mozart's "most festive and joyous" piece: Coronation Mass which will bring the combined choruses to stage.

Sunday afternoon's

musical magic may not have been possible without the vision of John Madura.

Only, Eugene and Marge Dunlap, Nell Madura and a handful of others may recall this footnote to Austin Symphony Orchestra history.

After the 11th successful performance of "Handel's 'Messiah'" in March 1857, John Madura asked the question that had been on the minds of fine-music fans: "Why doesn't Austin have a symphony orchestra?"

It had been asked before, but this time fans did not take "No" for an answer.

The Austin Symphony Orchestra was about to be born at last. Eight months after John Madura asked the question that year, Paul O. Heltne conducted the musicians.

The program was light: "Die Fledermaus" by Straus, "The Merry Widow" and "The Chocolate Soldier" and even LeRoy Anderson's "Fiddle Faddle."

Among the musicians at that inaugural concert: Nell Madura on first violin and Marge Dunlap on viola.

The Austin Symphony Orchestra brings together arguably Austin's finest musicians, but also musicians from northern Iowa, the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota.

Conductor Ramsey says, "We work very hard together."

The orchestra has enjoyed strong community support from the Austin Symphony Study group and

the indomitable WAASO.

At WAASO's January meeting at the Austin County Club, Nicole Schmitt, president of the organization, presented a check for $8,500 from another highly successful luncheon, tea and ball fund-raiser to Janet Oman, president of ASO's board of directors.

There is also a great deal of pride among the orchestra members; particularly the "veterans."

Marge Dunlap developed tendinitis in her left arm and is sidelined.

Sunday's concert will be only the sixth concert she has missed since the orchestra was formed in 1957.

Nell Madura is still there and has acquired "legend" status for her longevity.

She has missed only five concerts in 46 years.

Orchestra members are fond of recalling the time, Mrs. Madura, a viola and violin musician returned from a European vacation and arrived in Minneapolis at 4 p.m. and was seated in her chair the same day for a 7:15 p.m. rehearsal in Austin.

"It's still exciting," said Mrs. Madura. "Anybody who has listened to the Austin Symphony Orchestra knows who committed we are and how much we like our music."

On Sunday, young hands and older hands will grasp Mozart's music and with conductor Ramsey's energy and skills make it everybody's music once again …… just like John Madura said they should almost a half century ago.

Tickets for Sunday's concert are on sale at Black Bart's/Nemitz's and HyVee Food Store in Austin plus Tone Music at Albert Lea.

Adult tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door Sunday. College student tickets are $4 in advance or $5 at the door. Children in grades kindergarten through 12th will be admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult.

The concert is presented in cooperation with the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, Inc. through funding from the McKnight Foundation and Minnesota Legislature.

(Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at