The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2012-13 season – which features no increase in tickets prices and many local debuts of works and performers. | March 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a new report written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Madison Symphony Orchestra announced its 2012-13 season — its 87th season — at a press conference on Monday, presided over by the new Marketing Director, Madison native Henry Peters, and featuring a relaxed and engaging talk by conductor John DeMain, who will be marking his 19th season as the music director and conductor of the MSO.

There will be eight concert programs in the new season – DeMain said he hopes to return to nine concerts in 2013-14 — including the popular Christmas event. All performances will be in Overture Hall on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Next season, all the concerts will be conducted by maestro DeMain (below) and each program will contain his stimulating mix of old favorites with fascinating rarities.

The opening program (September 21-23) is a all-Russian feast, with Prokofiev’s witty “Classical Symphony” and Stravinsky’s dazzling “Firebird” Suite framing Tchaikovsky’s unfairly neglected Piano Concerto No 2, to be played, gloriously uncut, with the incomparable Garrick Ohlsson (below) soloing.

The October program (12-14) will open with the dazzling “Beatrice and Benedict” Overture of Berlioz, and close with Brahms’ richly autumnal Fourth Symphony. In between will be Bartók’s powerful Violin Concerto No. 2, with Canada’s rocketing star James Ehnes (below) as soloist.

For November (2-4), Schubert’s “Great” C-major Symphony will provide the monumental climax. Kodály’s coloful “Dances of Galanta” tribute to Hungarian folklore will be matched by Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto, featuring Madison’s own dazzling pianist twins, Christina and Michelle Naughton (below).

The Christmas concert in December will bring the usual local performers, including the Mt. Zion Gospel Chorus under Leotha Stanley, as well as new soloists soprano Emily Fons (below top) and Texas-Mexican tenor David Portillo (below bottom).

In January (18-20), the program will open with “Blue Cathedral,” a new work by the increasingly acclaimed contemporary American composer, Jennifer Higdon. Also included are Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 6, both of which are extraordinarily fine scores–the first mature effort by each composer in those forms, and neither heard nowhere near often enough. The soloist will the acclaimed Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero (below), famous also for her improvisational skills, which she will apparently demonstrate in some kind of encore.

Versatile German Cellist Alban Gerhardt  (below) will star in Prokofiev’s “Sinfonia Concertante“, a powerful combination of symphony and concerto, in February 8-10). Framing that will be Ravel’s moody “Rhapsodie Espagnole” and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.

A welcome return visitor to the MSO will be Norwegian violinst Henning Kraggerud, who will offer Mozart’s lovely Violin Concerto No. 4. It will be proceeded in the March program (8-10) by a Mozart overture (“The Impresario”) and Shostakovich’s mighty, impassioned post-Stalin Symphony No. 10.

The season finale in April (5-7) will feature the MSO’s new concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below, as the “cover girl” of Symphony magazine’s story on new concertmasters), as soloist in Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto in E minor.

Otherwise, the spotlight will be on the Madison Symphony Chorus. It will first be heard in choruses from Handel’s grand oratorio “Solomon”; then in Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony that sets Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Bells”; and, for a blazing climax, in a Vaughan Williams rarity, his early “choral song” entitled “Toward the Unknown Region,” which is set to a text by Walt Whitman. Vocal soloists include soprano Alexandra LoBianco (below top), tenor Harold Meers (below middle) and baritone Hugh Russell (below bottom).

As a whole, the season ahead is a balanced and stimulating one. There are old favorites alongside welcome discoveries. Interesting and exciting international soloists will contribute musicality and fireworks in both familiar and deserve-to-be-familiar items.

Another plus is that the cost of season tickets will remain the same, with no increase, though various discounts are given for new subscribers and for several customized series packages.

The MSO is now taking subscription orders, both new and renewed, with various series formats available plus attractive discounts. May 14 is the deadline for reserving current seats. For information, write to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, 222 W. Washington Ave., Suite 460, Madison 53703; call (608) 257-3734; or go online to


  1. Superlative new MSO seasons surpass all that precede! And was it not wonderful to see our Maestro back on the podium for the MSO Final Forte? We do love our exceptional guest conductors but are always so ready to welcome back John DeMain.

    His work in Chicago was magnificent and I hope “Showboat” was experienced by many from Wisconsin. Surely in every performance over the five-week stretch his baton shaped a superbly paced and brilliantly performed giant of American musical theater for the Lyric Opera. A few thoughts about the performance I attended: The orchestra was confident and crisp and when playing the exuberant jazz rhythms was comfortable and expressively “friendly.” The fine chorus was smaller than expected (after Lyric and DeMain’s Porgy and Bess) but not seeing the numbers one wouldn’t have known.

    The stunning singing standout was Morris Robinson as Joe. Those who enjoyed Nathan Gunn’s recital in the ideal conditions of the Wisconsin Union Theater couldn’t have expected the same in the huge Lyric hall. His singing and dramatic portrayal did not quite fill the hall but he was yet a dashing Ravenal. Other principals were quite up to that task. The amplification of speaking voices was very effective. The attractive sets were less than huge and complex as would be expected on the Lyric stage. For example the representation of the all-important showboat lacked sufficient depth. Finally, I always wondered why the non-singing Captain Andy always had to be hollering. Ross Lehman made it clear that that this persistent gigantic presence constitutes the anchor across Showboat’s time-span of over forty years from first scene to last!

    Would Madison Opera consider performing “Showboat”?

    Comment by Anne — March 22, 2012 @ 9:28 pm

    • Hi Anne,
      Thank you for your update and report on “Showboat.” Sounds like a first-class production of a great work.
      I also agree about seeing an dehiring John DeMain on the podium.
      About the new MSO seaosn, I agree completely.
      The more I look at it, the more it grows on me.
      Great players and great repertoire.
      I will be anxious to see how Maestro DeMain marks his 20th anniversary season in 2012-24.
      I imagine it will be impressive.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 23, 2012 @ 11:09 am

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