The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Maestro John DeMain talks about this weekend’s opening concerts of his 20th anniversary season as music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, pianist Jeffrey Siegel opens Keyboard Conversations with an all-Beethoven program at 7:30 tonight in Mills Hall.

September 24, 2013
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A REMINDER:  Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Union Theater presents pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) who will start his new season of Keyboard Conversations with “The Glory of Beethoven.” The program will conclude with a Q and A. Among the  works on this program will be the “Teresa Sonata” Op. 78,  (who was she and why did Ludwig van Beethoven compose this for her?) and the final Piano Sonata in C Minot, Op. 111, written after deafness enjulfed the composer. Here are ticket prices: General Public is $32 ; Memorial Union Member is $28; UW-Madison Faculty and Staff is $28; Non UW-Madison Students are $28; UW-Madison Student (with ID) is FREE; Youth is a Family Savings Event ofF $14 with purchase of an adult ticket and a limit of 2 youth tickets per adult ticket.


By Jacob Stockinger

True enough, officially the new music season started on Labor Day with the 36th annual Karp Family Concert. It proved to be a memorable evening of varied chamber music. Ad there have been some memorable chamber concerts and recitals since then.

But for many listeners, the season doesn’t really get underway until some BIG group with a BIG sound starts performing BIG works before a BIG audience.

That will happen this weekend when the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will open its season-long tribute to mark the 20th anniversary of music director and conductor John DeMain’s tenure with the orchestra.

mso from above

The program – done without a soloist – features three major and well-known orchestral works: Aaron Copland’sAppalachian Spring”; Richard Wagner’s “Prelude and Love Death” to the opera “Tristan und Isolde”; and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center and take place on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below) will give Prelude discussion of the program one hour before each performance.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

And here is a link to the program notes by the always enlightening and accessible J. Michael Allsen, who plays trombone in the MSO and teaches at the University fo Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Single tickets are $13,50 to $82.50. For more information about the concerts and tickets, visit:

In advance of the concert, Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) graciously granted an email interview to The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why did you decide to open the season without the usual piano or violin soloist?

There has been a long-standing tradition in the past among many orchestras to open the season with an all orchestral concert that focuses on the great musicians who make up the orchestra.

I felt that on the occasion of my 20th anniversary with the Madison Symphony, this would be a good time to revive that custom and try it out here in Madison.

I wanted to share my anniversary with the orchestra, because they are my instrument, and without them, I wouldn’t be able to perform. I do hope that this can become a tradition.

Of course, “Scheherazade” throws a huge focus on our concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), as she represents the Princess Scheherazade through numerous violin solos throughout the piece. Other members are featured as well, notably the cello, clarinet, horn and bassoon.

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

What did you choose to program these particular pieces? Can you walk us briefly through the program and tell us why they appealed to you:

The program has something for me: “Appalachian Spring”; something for music itself: “Tristan,” celebrating Wagner’s 200th birthday, and Something for the audience: “Scheherazade,” a dazzling crowd-pleaser.

I’m an America-born and America-trained musician. Copland (below) was our idol growing up. He stood for all that was American in the classical music world. He appealed to both musician and listener, and I wanted him to be on my anniversary program.

aaron copland

I’m an opera conductor as well, and Wagner (below) gave us dazzling works for the operatic canon that featured the orchestra in a major way. “Tristan und Isolde” is my favorite Wagner opera, so, again, I wanted the Prelude and Love-Death to be my anniversary choice on his 200th anniversary as well.

And lastly, I wanted a major work that showcases our incredible orchestra, with its virtuosic musicians on our glorious Overture Hall stage.

Actually all three works feature the orchestra in a spectacular manner, so it should be a real treat for the audience.

Richard Wagner

How healthy is the Madison Symphony Orchestra now in terms of finances, artistic achievement and audiences?

The Madison Symphony continues to draw broad support from our subscribers, single ticket buyers, and major donors. I’m particularly proud of the major increase in student attendees, and very proud of our educational programs interacting with our wonderful community.

I would encourage people who have not been to a symphony concert to take advantage of our 50% discount for first time subscribers and sign up. This season’s programs are rich and varied, and I think a first-timer will have a marvelous experience.

(Editor’s note: Until this Thursday, Sept. 26, the MSO is making a special offer that any new subscriber can receive 50% off on a subscription of five or more concerts. Details are at:

After that our regular offer to new subscribers is that they can save UP TO 50% off a subscription. (50% off when people subscribe to 7 or 8 concerts and 40% off when people subscribe to 5 or 6 concerts.)


What goals have you met in your 20-year tenure and what goals remain to be fulfilled?

My goals in the beginning were to increase the size of the audience by going to triple performances; increase the size of the string section; expand the repertoire; challenge the players, and lobby for a better performance space. (Below is Overture Hall, the permanent home of the MSO.)

These goals were not only met, but the results have far exceeded even my expectations. There is still much more repertoire to explore, ever-expanding educational opportunities to develop still more audiences for classical music, and the constant addition of major new performing artists that I would like to bring to our audiences.

Overture Hall

What conclusions about your 20-year tenure with the MSO would you like the audience to hear and take away from hearing this opening concert of your anniversary season?

I would like the audience to feel how blessed we are in this community to have such a fine orchestra that adores performing for its audience and is deeply committed to artistic excellence, and how worthy it is to continue to have great music enrich our lives in live performances that bring musician, audience member, and the music itself, together in a unique way.

MSO playing

And lastly, I am so grateful and forever indebted to Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi for giving us the Overture Center for the Arts. It is the thrill of my lifetime to be able to perform in this beautiful space. I also would like to add how much my lovely wife Barbara (below top), and my beautiful daughter Jennifer (below bottom) have loved living, growing up, and studying in this great city of Madison. Thank you from all of us to the community.

John DeMain and Barbara DeMain

John DeMain and Jennifer DeMain

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