The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Conductor John DeMain takes listeners behind the scenes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural “Beyond the Score” concert of Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony this Sunday afternoon. Plus, flutist Kirstin Ihde plays a FREE concert of Saint-Saens, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Bach this Friday at noon. | January 23, 2014

ALERT:  This Friday’s Free Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the historic the First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Dawn Lawler and pianist Kirstin Ihde in music of Camille Saint-Saens, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Dawn Lawler

By Jacob Stockinger

Ever since he arrived in Madison from Houston 20 years ago, maestro John DeMain has never ceased to innovate and try new things to boost the fortunes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, where he is the music director and the artistic director, respectively.

His many efforts have included new audition procedures for players; opening up rehearsals to the public; helping to procure and build the Overture Center; expanding educational programs and community outreach programs; and tirelessly promoting his efforts through Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT-FM, Wisconsin Public Television and commercial TV network affiliates.

He also tried a special New Year’s concert that didn’t work out, and going to triple performances, which did work out.

So it seemed only natural that The Ear should asked DeMain about his latest effort in both music education and concert performance: Doing the “Beyond the Score” version of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Tickets are $15-$60 and are selling fast towards a sell-out; they can be bought through the Overture Center box office or by calling at (608) 258-4141.)

Here is a link with more details about the production and concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-will-unveil-its-first-beyond-the-score-multi-media-performance-of-antonin-dvoraks-popular-symphony-no-9-fro/

And here is an email Q&A with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) about the background and future of the Beyond the Score series, which was pioneered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

How and when did the idea for this kind of concert or special event come to you?

Actually some of our patrons witnessed “Beyond the Score” in Chicago several years ago and brought it to our attention. We immediately investigated the program and found it fascinating and wonderful. We felt it was something that Madison should have.

The “Beyond the Score” concert on Sunday afternoon is almost sold out. What do you attribute its popularity to? When did it start, and how has it been received by the public and the musicians at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?

I think the public loves the “New World” Symphony by Dvorak (below) and is anxious to get deeper into this great symphony and it’s connection to America. “Beyond the Score” is in its ninth season in Chicago and has been wildly successful with their audience. This year they’re adding three more symphonies to their canon of works for this program.

dvorak

Why did you decide to program this event, and can you give us some background to it? Do you think it will help build new audiences? Deepen the appreciation of current audiences? How so?

I hope this will attract new listeners and deepen the experience of our current audience. This is not a musicological or theoretical analysis of the symphony, although many examples are cited to illustration certain aspects of the music. Rather it is a multi-media presentation that is highly entertaining as well as informative look into the creative process.

What makes this symphony American, Czech and Beethovenian all in one? This is what “Beyond the Score” examines as it conjures up the wonderful historical context in which this work was written. (Below is a photo of the manuscript score of the “New World” Symphony.)

Dvorak ms Symphony nO 9 New World

If this format is popular and well received here, might the MSO (below) do another one next season, or maybe even more performances? What other works are available in that format and have you considered?

We hope that if the performance is well received here and that other underwriters step forward, we can possibly see more of these in the future. Currently, there are 22 works in the “Beyond the Score” canon.

MSO playing

Are there parts about the Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony program that particularly attract you, or parts that you want to draw the public’s attention to?

I know that after the intermission, when we perform the symphony in its entirety, the audience will listen to it in a whole new way. (Below is a YouTube video, with more than 1.5 million hits of the soulful slow movement, which borrows from Negro spirituals, of the “New World Symphony as performed by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It is The Ear’s favorite movement of this wonderful symphony.)

Editor’s note: Here are the official program notes by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist J. Michael Allsen for the “New World” Symphony:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/4A.BTM_Dvorak.html

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3 Comments »

  1. Jake, I’m very glad to see that this event is close to sold-out — I for one like to have classical music compositions placed in historical context, and am very appreciative of any effort to provide the why-and-wherefore surrounding a major work. I really think that classical music needs much more of this approach, and I certainly hope this concept takes root here in Madison. Thanks for providing the history of this venture!

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — January 23, 2014 @ 7:48 am


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