The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let us now praise ensemble orchestra players who are overshadowed by conductors and soloists. Auditioning for a symphony orchestra is an arduous life-changing event, as a terrific NPR story documents.

September 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Gradually, the new concert season is getting under way. One of the biggest opening concerts comes this weekend, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season.

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson (below) returns to Madison to solo in the rarely performed and rarely heard Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44, by Tchaikovsky – who wrote three piano concertos of which only the first, the famous one in B-flat minor, achieved mass appeal. (Some of the rarely recorded Second Concerto’s gorgeous second movement is at the bottom.)

The performance of the Tchaikovsky is part of an all-Russian program that also includes Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite. The conductor is MSO’s music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill), who is starting his 19th season in Madison at the MSO.

Also featured will be the “Adagio for Strings” — NOT to be confused with Samuel Barber‘s famous work with the same title —  by University of Wisconsin composer and tuba player John Stevens, who also serves as the director of the UW School of Music. The work was originally composed in 1991 for tuba and euphonium ensemble, then revised in 2009 for strings and given its premiere by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. The performance of this work is being dedicated to the memory of longtime retired MSO music director and conductor Roland Johnson who died in May at 91, and to the memory of Paul Haugan, the longtime principal tuba player for the MSO who died prematurely in July. See below). 

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.50 to $78.50. For more information about tickets, call the Overture Box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit

For J. Michael Allsen’s program notes for the “Russian Resounds” concerts, visit:

Still, the soloist isn’t the only intriguing part of the concert.

A lot of fine music-making rides on regular orchestra players and especially on principal players or section leaders. And this past summer, the longtime and very accomplished principal tuba player Paul Haugan (below), died at 57 this past July. Here is a link to my post last month that announced the death of the highly accomplished Madison-born Milwaukee resident:

Who will replace Haugan?

I don’t yet know. But a recent story on NPR traced the process of auditioning for a major symphony orchestra. It shows how much work and nervousness goes into the strenuous, intimidating and extremely competitive make-or-break chance for a full-time job with a symphony.

It makes for fascinating listening and might just give you a new appreciation of the regular orchestra players, who are usually overshadowed by both the conductor and the soloist.

Here is a link:

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