The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Soprano Alyson Cambridge talks about mastering crossover genres and how to attract ethnically diverse audiences to classical music and opera. She sings with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its annual Christmas concerts this weekend.

December 1, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra, with guest groups and soloists all under the baton of music director John DeMain, will kick off the holiday season with traditional Christmas concerts in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The concerts will celebrate the holidays with a wide range of music from Johann Sebastian Bach, Irving Berlin, George Frideric Handel, John Rutter and Franz Schubert to holiday favorites and rocking Gospel selections -– topped off with the audience adding its voice to carols at the end.

Concert highlights include:

Soloists soprano Alyson Cambridge (below top) and tenor Harold Meers (below bottom), who are accomplished national operatic singers.

Alyson Cambridge 1

Harold Meers

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), directed by Beverly Taylor, with 125 members, who come from all walks of life to combine their artistic talent.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Madison Youth Choirs (below in a photo by Dan Sinclair), directed by Michael Ross, which combines young voices for a memorable experience.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi HS CR Dan Sinclair

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below), directed by Leotha Stanley, which uses jazz, blues and gospel harmonies to “raise the roof” in creating captivating music.

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir

And, last but not least, the audience members who join in the singing.

Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive at the Overture Hall lobby 45 minutes before the concert so they can be moved by the Madison Symphony Chorus leading carols in the festively lit lobby.

MSO officials stress that these concerts typically sell out, so early ticket purchases are encouraged.

Single Tickets are $16 to $84 each, available at and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive up to a 50% discount. For more information and to subscribe, visit or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit,

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at:

Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.                                                           

Here is an especially insightful Q&A that soprano Alyson Cambridge kindly gave to The Ear:

Alyson Cambridge 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers, including how you first got involved in music including; when you started music lessons; the Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a professional career; and your current projects and future plans?

I began voice lessons when I was 12 years old, but had always been musical and theatrical. I studied piano from age 4 to 14 and dabbled in violin and flute along the way.

In truth, I came to classical singing and opera because a neighbor overheard me playing around and impersonating an opera singer as a joke. (There were all types of music playing around my house — everything from classical, to reggae, to Calypso “soca” to jazz to pop — and I imitated all the singers I heard.)

However, my “opera singer voice” wasn’t half  bad and I was encouraged to start voice lessons, which I did. It was my first teacher who encouraged me to begin training classically.

In terms of pursuing it as a career, I think I was honestly split for a long time. I knew I loved singing and performing, but I also really enjoyed sports, my academic studies, being social, sort of “normal” teenage stuff.  As a result, I was a double-degree undergraduate at Oberlin College, earning degrees in both sociology/pre-law and Voice Performance.

My final year at Oberlin, I decided to apply only to the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute for my master’s studies, and said if I didn’t get it I would go to law school.  If I DID get into either school, I decided I’d consider it a sign to give a music career a real shot and five years to “make it.”

I ended up at Curtis, where I only spent one year, and the next year I was in New York, having won the Metropolitan Opera National Council  Auditions, and joining the MET’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  The next year I made my MET debut … and that’s how it all happened! (Below is a photo of Alyson Cambridge playing Julia  in Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat.”

Alyson Cambdirge as Julia in Show-Boat

You will be singing in “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the “Gloria” by Francis Poulenc (below bottom). Talk about “crossover” singing. How does singing classical music help or hinder you in singing jazz, pop and holiday music, and vice-versa?

In truth, I have only seen advantages to singing both classically and “crossover.”  Although I trained classically, I grew up singing and being exposed to pop, musical theater, jazz — you name it.  So, I have a natural affinity for the non-classical, and I also study with musical theater, jazz and crossover coaches as well as my classical/opera teachers and coaches.

I think it’s important to approach all styles with respect and not try to make a style sound only one way or use only one part of your vocal color or stylistic palette.  I love and enjoy both, so I sing both. And, in speaking with audiences following a performance in which I sing both, I find audiences love the variety too.

Adolphe Adam

Francis Poulenc

What is it that attracts you most in each genre? What is the most challenging part of each genre? Do they appeal to different parts of your personality? What do you think of holiday music and holiday concerts?

Both genres offer their own unique set of musical colors, and I like highlighting those when I am singing them.  You may, for example, get a glorious high-soaring melody over a full orchestra in a classical piece. In a traditionally more “crossover” or contemporary piece, you might highlight the intimacy and the nuance in the text and storytelling in the song (like “White Christmas,” for example) in a way you may not be able to do or that is applicable in a piece like Poulenc’s “Gloria.”

I love all kinds of holiday music, and think that’s what’s so great about the concert that Maestro DeMain (below, conducting in a Santa hat in a photo by Bob Rashid) has put together — there really is something for everyone, and it’s ALL wonderful!

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

You have worked with John DeMain before in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Jerome Kern’s “Showboat.” Do you have anything to say about your experiences with maestro DeMain? Have you performed before in Madison and do you have anything you want to say about performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain in Madison?

I adore John DeMain! When I was asked to do these concerts with him, I was thrilled for yet another opportunity to work with him.  We have visited some of the greatest pieces of American opera and musical theater together over the years, and to come together now on a program that celebrates the most wonderful classical and popular holiday music is something to which I am really looking forward.

This will be my first time performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Having heard nothing but raves about them from friends, colleagues and Maestro DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), I can’t wait!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Do you have any suggestions about how to attract audiences that are more ethnically diverse to classical music?

This is a great question, and an answer that I think comes down to one simple idea: EXPOSURE!  I have yet to meet a child or adult, of any race, gender or socio-economic background who, upon seeing and hearing a live opera or classical concert or performance, no matter how grand or small, who hasn’t been moved, touched or curious to hear or learn more.

I have an upcoming television appearance on Nov. 30 in which I will be the first opera singer ever to be a featured performer on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Centric TV’s Soul Train Awards. The first broadcast on Sunday is estimated to reach over 4.5 million viewers, and I know that the viewership will not be the “typical” opera audience…and I think it is GREAT, and I can’t WAIT for it to happen!  We taped the show on Nov. 7 in Las Vegas, and the reaction from the 3,000 people in attendance at the show taping was awesome.

An audience filled of primarily R&B, rap, hip hop and soul artists and fans, got to hear and see opera in a whole new light, one that was much different from the stereotypes perpetuated in ads and rooted in outdated ideas of what opera and classical music are. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, and I think more opportunities and advantages should be taken and can come from exposure like that. (Below is a photo by Richard Termine of Alyson Cambridge singing in George Gershwin’s short jazz opera “Blue Monday.”)

alyson cambridge as Vi in Gershwn's jazz opera Blue CR richard termine

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I am appreciative of the curiosity that comes with crossing genres and reaching new audiences, and the conversations that come with it.  It’s having these conversations that I think helps pique interest in new potential listeners and concert-goers.

I am also immensely thankful for my family, without whose constant support and encouragement to follow my slightly less-than-traditional opera singer path has meant more than words can express!  I’ve never been one to “color inside the lines,” and having wonderful colleagues and mentors like John DeMain and so many others, and friends and family who support and respect that is an invaluable thing!



Classical music: Madison’s well traveled Kat Trio will perform a FREE concert Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society.

July 20, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, July 21, the Madison-based Kat Trio will perform in concert at First Unitarian Society of Madison (below), 900 University Bay Drive.

The eclectic program features music by Milhaud, Dvorak, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Smetana, Franz Krommer, Shostakovich, Alberto Ginastera, Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach), Jerome Kern, Scott Joplin among others.

The concert is in Frank Lloyd Wright‘s historic building,  in the Landmark Auditorium. It begins at 7:30 p.m., and is free and open to the public. A free will offering will be taken.

The violin-clarinet-piano ensemble from Ekaterinburg, Russia was formed in 1998 in Ekaterinburg by three friends—Victoria Gorbich (violin), Vladislav Gorbich (clarinet) and
Vasil Galiulin (piano)— who had just graduated from the Ural State Music Conservatory.

Today’s “Kat Trio” (bekow) is mad up of Victoria, Vladislav and Julie Page, touring as artists-in-residence
with Wisconsin Public Radio and the Chazen Museum of Art. Vikki and Vlad are doctoral graduates of Arizona State University.

The newest member of the trio, pianist Julie Page, graduated in May with
a doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Vikki, Vlad and Julie are on the road presenting the trio’s unique Russian arrangements and transpositions of timeless melodies. The Trio’s concerts feature classical works, well-known inspirational songs, and even American pop standards, including Scott Joplin’s rags.

“Joyful” is the word that audiences often use to describe the Ekaterinburg Classical Trio’s presentation of classical, inspirational and pop standards.

The Kat Trio loves performing live and has played more than 500 concerts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Chicago, Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas, St. Louis, Little Rock, Shreveport, Branson, Denver, Lincoln, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Madison, and numerous small communities, impressing audiences with their exceptional arrangements, artistic interpretations, and captivating technique.

When not found in concert venues, college or high school auditoriums, or in classrooms doing Master Classes, the Trio is performing for Sunday services or presenting concerts in churches.

The Ekaterinburg Trio’s website,, features a “Music” page where fans can hear music files of all the songs they’ve recorded on 9 CD’s. The YouTube link on their home page allows fans to view dozens of videos of individual song performances.

For more information on the Ekaterinburg Classical Trio, to hear samples of their music, and watch Kat Trio videos, visit their website:

Classical music review: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s and Madison Opera’s maestro John DeMain triumphs in Jerome Kern’s “Showboat” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

February 16, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Some people act as if it is easy to make it big in Madison but then fall flat or fail in a bigger city or on a bigger stage.

But that is certainly not the case for John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill), the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera who is now in his 18th season in Madison.

Currently, DeMain — who guests conducts a lot of opera productions all around the US  — is celebrating his latest success: A triumphant production of Jerome Kern’s “Showboat” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photos below are by Robert Kusel for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.)

DeMain also did an acclaimed production of “Showboat” in San Francisco.

Now, The Ear – who loves Kern’s tunes (“Ol’ Man River” and “We Could Make Believe”) and other music from the show — tends to think of “Showboat” as a Broadway musical.

But apparently The Ear is wrong.

A lot of other more knowledgeable critics and historians consider “Showboat” a cross between traditional opera and Broadway theater — maybe an American form of operetta? — much like George Gershwin’sPorgy and Bess,” which is coincidentally one of the high points of DeMain’s career.

In 1976 DeMain won Grammy and Grand Prix du Disque awards for his recording of “Porgy and Bess” as well as a Tony award, and then an Emmy award years later when he performed it on PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center.” He also won Leonard Bernstein’s outspoken admiration for his “Porgy and Bess” production.

And DeMain will close out the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s current season in mid-May with an all-Gershwin concert that includes soprano Laquita Williams (below), one of the stars of “Showboat,” in excerpts from “Porgy and Bess.” For more information, visit:

DeMain’s production of “Showboat” – he is the music director — opened last weekend in Chicago to great reviews, many of which are linked to below.

The show runs through March 17.

Maybe some readers can make it down to Chicago to see and hear it.

But even if you can’t, we can all take pride in the achievement of this now Native Son and his conquest of the Windy City.

And to think we hear him in Madison more often than they do! Are we lucky or what?

Here is one review that is a rave:

Here is a review of the Chicago Tribune:

And another rave from the competing Chicago Sun-Times that talks of the show as a hybrid of opera and Broadway musical that DeMain is long familiar with:

Another review from the site Chicago Theatre Addict:

And another rave with a lot of photos:

For some background about the production here is a story:,0,1139328.column

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,259 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,315,356 hits
    July 2021
    M T W T F S S
%d bloggers like this: