The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Barbara DeMain — wife of Madison Symphony Orchestra music director and Madison Opera artistic director John DeMain — has died | February 7, 2020


By Jacob Stockinger

Barbara DeMain (below) — the wife of John DeMain, the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera — died Thursday.

A member of the orchestra sent the following note:

“Earlier today, we received some very tragic news from the orchestra office.

“Barbara DeMain passed away earlier this morning after becoming ill late last evening.

“She was admitted to a hospital last evening while John was in rehearsal with the opera.

“Their daughter Jenny (below top on right, with her father) drove to Madison from Chicago and she and John (below bottom left, with Barbara) were with her all night until she passed.

“This is very tragic news, and we’re all wanting to reach out in any way we can to support the DeMain family. Once plans are made for a memorial or funeral, we’ll send the information out as quickly as possible.”

“Thank you all for keeping them in your thoughts and prayers.”

The Ear has heard that John DeMain plans on conducting the opera this weekend and the three MSO performances next weekend.

But he has not been able to verify that or other details about Barbara, who was born in Germany as Barbara Dittman, and met John in Houston, where he was the director of the Houston Grand Opera, in 1991. They married soon after meeting, and have been in Madison for 26 years. Barbara was a political activist and an arts consultant.

The Ear will pass along more details as he learns them.

Below — dedicated to Barbara DeMain — is a YouTube video of the “Pie Jesu” movement from the Requiem by Gabriel Faure.

Rest in peace, Barbara.



  1. Very deep condolences to the Demain family.


    Comment by Diana — February 8, 2020 @ 9:05 pm

  2. Thank you, Ear, for sharing this very sad and unexpected news. My condolences to you and Barbara’s other friends, the MSO, and most of all, her family. In good times and bad, I appreciate your insightful and authoritative news about Madison’s classical music scene and its participants.


    Comment by Carol T Moseson — February 8, 2020 @ 11:49 am

    • Dear Carol
      Thank you for taking the time to reply.
      Your kind thoughts about Barbara DeMain and your kind words about my blog are much appreciated.
      Wishing you all the best
      The Ear


      Comment by welltemperedear — February 8, 2020 @ 5:14 pm

  3. So saddened to hear this. I will miss Barbara’s kindness and generosity. My heart goes out to John and Jennifer.


    Comment by Sandy Tabachnick — February 7, 2020 @ 7:51 pm

  4. How dare you post this without permission! The orchestra office did not inform you of this. Shame on you!


    Comment by Alexis — February 7, 2020 @ 1:03 pm

    • Dear Alexis,
      Thank you for your reply.
      I am not sure why you are angry, outraged or offended.
      Barbara was personal friend and a public figure.
      As a blogger who is also an experienced journalist, I do not need permission and I am not licensed. Perhaps you did not know that.
      Moreover, there was nothing in the letter that went out to many people that said it should not be shared.
      Posting the contents was merely a way to inform the public about this very sad and unexpected event.
      And judging from the responses here and on Facebook, many, many people appreciated hearing the news and wanted to offer their condolences to John and Jenny.
      I hope this clarifies my reason for posting it.
      Should you want to respond or add to what you have already said, I invite you to do so.
      Best wishes,
      The Ear


      Comment by welltemperedear — February 7, 2020 @ 2:54 pm

      • I completely support the Ear for doing this. He is a public blogger writing in the area of classical music and apparently the orchestra office sent him the notice of the death knowing this. Do you think, Alexis, they expected him to sit on this news?

        Perhaps a better question is to ask Alexis: why was this improper? Please provide reasons, not a rant.


        Comment by fflambeau — February 7, 2020 @ 6:39 pm

  5. So shocking to all the Madison community who knew her. So energetic and full of life. My deep sympathy to John and Jennifer!


    Comment by Judy Christenson — February 7, 2020 @ 9:19 am

  6. So sad! Rest in peace.


    Comment by Rebecca Forbes Wank — February 7, 2020 @ 8:23 am

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