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Emotional Mozart concerto highlighted in Itasca orchestra’s spring concert

Close up image with sunlight shining through Madlen Breckbill's hair
Madlen Breckbill is a Collins Fellow at University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying viola and violin. She will perform with the Itasca Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

Guest conductor Mark Bartley, violist Madlen Breckbill and Itasca Orchestra String Program President Jesse Davis joined the KAXE Morning Show to share insights into the concert, which will feature Beethoven, Mozart and more.

GRAND RAPIDS — A West Texas A&M music professor who’s conducted professional orchestras across the globe will take the stage with the Itasca Symphony Orchestra for their spring concert 7 p.m. Saturday, May 20.

Mark Bartley was one of three guests on the Friday, May 19, KAXE Morning Show who joined to talk about the classical “Concertante” celebration, which will feature Beethoven, Mozart and more.

“I hate to start my segment with a grievance, but I came into Grand Rapids on Wednesday and over the last two days now, I've experienced fantastic, warm-hearted people and beautiful scenic vistas and you have a symphony orchestra,” Bartley said. “How do you get to have all three? You know that most of the rest of the country, we will have one, maybe two.”

Also in the studio Friday was Madlin Breckbill from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a violist who will perform as a soloist during Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” Breckbill played a portion of her solo live.

“That’s a little segment from the second movement of this concerto we're playing tomorrow, which is a conversation between the violinist and violist,” Breckbill said. “Mozart wrote it after the death of his mother, and he wrote it to be played by himself and his father. So it's a very healing movement.”

Mark Barley in black and white
Mark Bartley has conducted professional orchestras across the U.S., China, South Korea, Portugal, Romania, and the Czech Republic. He is the guest conductor for the Itasca Orchestra's classical “Concertante” celebration set for Saturday, May 20, 2023.

Bartley echoed Breckbill’s explanation of the piece and the emotion it carries.

“It’s the violin that’s bereft, and it’s the consoling voice of the viola that answers back and forth,” he said.

Bartley said he was impressed by what he heard during his first rehearsal.

“It’s not to be missed. As you say, it’s going to make you cry,” he said. “And I get to be the closest one to it, right? I’ll be like 3 feet from them, so I’ll get it full force. But what a treat. The admission price will get you the whole seat, but you really only need the edge.”

Jesse Davis, president of the Itasca Orchestra Strings Program, is a fellow violist. Davis won’t be performing in this concert, but he and Breckbill exchanged sentiments about the tonality of the instrument.

"The admission price will get you the whole seat, but you really only need the edge.”
Mark Bartley

“The viola has a voice that is very, very similar to the human voice,” Davis said. “ … The violin can sometimes seem a little like strained, like that crazy soprano that's singing the aria at the end, you know. And a viola is a little bit more, you know, like, ‘Hey, can't we all get along here?’ So the viola is the answer to the world's problems.”

It’s Bartley’s job to tie together the voices of the instruments and the humans playing them. Bartley said each time he conducts, it’s a different experience, since every musician brings their personalities and tendencies to the mix.

“The power I get is from making other people powerful. So when I can bring sounds from the orchestra that complement how they’re going to do it,” Bartley said. “ … Anything we can do to bring such nuance to every little beat. Everything has a little bit of purpose. And when I can help bring that about, that’s what I’m there for.”

Violist Breckbill said she appreciates conductors who work in tandem with the musicians.

“Someone who is … interested in the people and connecting and collaborating and listening and responding,” she said, in describing a good conductor. “And inspiring the music.”

Local musicians are encouraged to join the Itasca Symphony Orchestra. The organization reports on its website that the musicians come from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels.

The orchestra collaborates with surrounding Northern Minnesota symphonies and soloists from across the United States.

Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

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