The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other individuals and groups join forces to celebrate John DeMain’s 25th season with Mahler’s monumental “Symphony of a Thousand”

April 29, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any standard, it is epic music.

The stage in Overture Hall will have more than 500 participants on it this coming weekend when the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) partners with the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs, the UW–Madison Choral Union and eight critically acclaimed vocal soloists to bring a performance of Gustav Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8 — or “Symphony of a Thousand.”

For the first time since 2005, MSO music director and conductor John DeMain will conduct one of the largest undertakings in the classical music repertoire as the final concert marking his Silver Anniversary Season.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night, May 3, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, May 4, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, May 5, at 2:30 p.m.

Information about tickets ($18-$93) is below.

Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson): “I have spent 25 years with this orchestra and chorus. In that time, our collaboration on Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8 in 2005 stands out as perhaps the most memorable. I feel a magnetic affinity with Mahler, and began my career 25 years ago with his first symphony. I am honored and moved to conduct this work and feel it is the perfect conclusion to my 25th season.”

Composed in December 1906, Symphony No. 8 is the last work by Mahler (below) to be premiered in his lifetime. It is one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire, and because it requires huge instrumental and vocal forces, it is frequently called the “Symphony of a Thousand.” (Below is a photo of the final rehearsal for the world premiere performance in Munich in 1910.)

The structure of the work is unconventional; instead of the normal framework of several movements, the piece is in two parts.

Part I is based on the Latin text of a 9th-century Christian hymn for Pentecost, and Part II is a setting of the words from the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust.

The two parts are unified by a common idea: redemption through the power of love, a unity conveyed through shared musical themes.

Symphony No. 8 is revered as one of the greatest achievements of classical concert repertoire and expresses the composer’s confidence in the eternal human spirit. (You can hear Sir Simon Rattle conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in the famous finale of the Symphony No. 8 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)


The distinguished solo singers are: soprano Alexandra LoBianco; soprano Emily Birsan (below), who just last weekend sang the title role in the Madison Opera’s production of Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka”; soprano Emily Pogorelc; mezzo-soprano Milena Kitic; mezzo-soprano Julie Miller; tenor Clay Hilley; baritone Michael Redding; and bass-baritone Morris Robinson.

For photos and impressive biographical information about the soloists, go to:

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on Feb. 23, 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since.

The chorus is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who is the director of Choral Activities at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Inclusive of members of all skill levels, the Madison Youth Choirs (below), Michael Ross director, incorporate singers from ages 7-18 into their orchestration.

The choirs aim to introduce youths interested in musical performance to collaborative forms of self-confidence and responsibility in the atmosphere of musical training. Randal Swiggum is conducting rehearsals preparing members of the choir for the MSO’s May Symphony of a Thousand concerts.

With 150 members, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) fuses university and non-university members. Under the direction of Beverly Taylor, former associate conductor of the MSO who also teaches at the UW-Madison, the Choral Union is another testament to the musical outreach in the Madison arts.


The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below, in a photo by James Gill) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket-holders.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online:

  • Single Tickets are $18-$93 each and are on sale now at: the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 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 Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at:
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 10 vouchers for 19-20 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at:
  • Subscriptions for the 2019-2020 season are available now. Learn more at:

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

Major funding provided by NBC15, Larry and Jan Phelps, Diane Ballweg, Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Johnson Financial Group, and University Research Park. Additional funding provided by DeWitt LLP, Kennedy Gilchrist and Heidi Wilde, Thomas E. Terry, Fred A. Wileman, Helen L. Wineke, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Classical music: With actors and multimedia, the Madison Symphony Orchestra explores Felix Mendelssohn in Italy this coming Sunday afternoon

January 14, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon, Jan. 20, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and its music director John DeMain will present the story behind Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian” with Beyond the Score®: Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4: Why Italy? (Ticket information is further down.)

The concert is a multimedia examination of German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s travels through Italy.

Starring American Players Theatre actors Sarah Day (below top), Jonathan Smoots (below middle) and Nate Burger (below bottom), the concert experience features visual projections, photos, musical excerpts and a full performance of the Symphony No. 4 by the MSO, with John DeMain conducting, in the second half.

In 1830, a young 21-year-old Mendelssohn (below) visited the Italian countryside and the historic cities of Venice, Naples and Rome.

Three years later, he set his journey to music and composed his fourth Symphony — later to be known as his “Italian” Symphony. Though it eventually became one of the composer’s most popular works, the piece was performed only twice during his lifetime and published four years after his death in 1851. (You can hear the rousing final movement of the “Italian Symphony” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Designed for classical music lovers and newcomers looking for a deeper look into the world of classic music and the motivations of significant compositions, “Beyond the Score®: Why Italy?” joins Mendelssohn on his travels in Italy and discovers his inspiration for this symphonic work.

Incorporating the composer’s own letters and writings, the program presents the historical context behind the classical piece turned masterpiece.

Program notes by J. Michael Allsen are available at:

Single Tickets are $16 to $70 each, available at, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the box office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 10 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 Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 or $20 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.

Exclusive funding for this concert is provided by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney is the Creative Director for Beyond the Score®

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Classical music Q&A: Russian pianist Olga Kern explains the popularity of Russian music. She performs Rachmaninoff this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not only does the Russian pianist Olga Kern (below, in a photo by Chris Lee) play Russian music superbly, she speaks about it just as well, even eloquently and poetically.

Olga Kern

Witness her remarks below, which serve as an introduction to Kern, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Russian program includes the Suite from “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information, program notes and some audiovisual clips.

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour pre-concert talk will be given by the accomplished violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below). She plays with the MSO, the Madison Bach Musicians and the Ancora String Quartet and who also serves as a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.


NOTE: In addition, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Club 201 will host a special concert and after-party for Madison’s young professionals on Friday, Oct. 17. Fun, friendship, networking and tastings are included. The post-concert party, located in nearby Promenade Lounge within Overture Center, will include hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and offer drink specials. All Club 201 guests will have the exclusive chance to mingle with Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians and fellow music lovers. The $35 ticket will include a discounted concert ticket (usually $63-$84), seating near other young professionals during the performance, and access to the post-concert party with food. Purchase tickets by this WEDNESDAY, OCT. 15, by calling (608) 257-3734 or at

Here is the email interview that Olga Kern, who won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition when she was just 17, graciously granted to The Ear:

Olga Kern

How do you compare the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff – which you played to win the Van Cliburn gold medal — to its more popular counterparts such as the Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 and the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which you also perform? What do you like about the work and what should listeners pay attention to?

The first concerto is Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1 piece. He re-edited it later in life, and in this composition you can hear the fresh approach immediately from the beginning of the first movement. And what an incredibly beautiful second movement it has. He gives the piano an opportunity to start the main melody, which sounds almost like an improvisation in a way.

It’s so unique, and at the same time you can hear Rachmaninoff’s special style as a composer in every note and bar. It’s his first composition and it gives incredible platform and base to his other orchestral works, especially to his piano concerti.

This concerto is similar in structure to his third concerto. It has also a long piano cadenza in the first movement, which is the dramatic point of the whole composition. Also, as in the third concerto, the finale of the last movement is challenging for both the pianist and the orchestra.  (You can hear Olga Kern perform Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is why, I think, this concerto is not performed very often — because it’s not easy. But it’s really a great pleasure and excitement to perform this concerto. It’s such a wonderful jewel of Rachmaninoff’s music!


You have performed in Madison several times, both solo recitals and concertos. Do you have anything to say about Madison audiences or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

I love Madison — the city, the people, the concert hall, the audience, the orchestra and of course the Maestro, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). He is fantastic. I can’t wait to work with him again. It’s always great! I have wonderful friends here and I always come back to this great place with pleasure!

I like to work with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — they are so sensitive and responsive, and I always have a great and fun time at the rehearsals with them. In the end, at the concert time, the performances come off so beautifully that it is a joy and a great celebration of music!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The Rachmaninoff piano concerto is part of an all-Russian program that also features music by Tchaikovsky (below top) and Shostakovich (below bottom). Are there certain qualities that you identify with Russian music and that explain the music’s appeal to the public?

Russian music is full of feeling and is very powerful emotionally. Russian people, even if they are happy, are always sad inside. And this explains why Russian music is so complicated with feelings -– it is in its nature — always a fight between sadness and happiness, between darkness and light, between good and bad. You feel it — whether you listen to it or you perform it.

All the composers who will be performed in this concert had very difficult, complicated lives. They went through so much, but at the same time they wanted to be happy. They were romantics in their souls, fighters in their hearts.

They wanted to make the world beautiful, no matter what, with their heavenly amazing music! This is why it’s always so exciting and so touching to listen and to perform their incredible works and compositions!


dmitri shostakovich

Since winning the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2001, you have been very busy. What are your current recording projects and touring plans?

Yes, I am very busy, and of course very happy about it. I definitely have lots of exciting plans for the near future, but — if you don’t mind — I will keep it as a secret to keep many wonderful surprises soon for my wonderful fans and friends!

Please follow me on my website,, my official Facebook page, Twitter: @kernolga1, and Instagram @kernolga. I will be posting all my exciting news and projects and share it with all of you there!

Is there more you would like to say or add?

I am looking forward very much to coming back to beautiful autumn season in Madison. It’s my favorite season there. Nature is gorgeous and, as always for me, very inspiring!

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra receives a National Endowment for the Arts grant for community outreach and music therapy, and gives its season-closing last performance of “The Gershwin Legacy” this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. Plus, the University of Wisconsin Masters Singers give a FREE concert Monday night.

May 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today brings some of this and some of that:


The federal National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) a $15,000 grant to support HeartStringsSM, an internationally-recognized music therapy-informed community engagement program for individuals with special needs.

The MSO, under music director John DeMain, is one of 886 nonprofit organizations nationwide that received grants totaling $25.8 million.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

HeartStrings uses live music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of children and adults with disabilities, long-term illnesses, dementia, and assisted-living needs.

The distinctive program is presented free-of-charge by the MSO’s Rhapsodie Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), a professional string quartet comprised of principal MSO musicians: from left, they are violinist Suzanne Beia, violinist Laura Burns, violist Christopher Dozoryst and cellist Karl Lavine.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

The Quartet leads a series of 9 group music therapy-informed sessions at 10 retirement communities, healthcare facilities, and state institutions across Dane County each year. It reaches nearly 3,200 individuals per season–many of whom would not otherwise have access to the restorative effects of live classical music.

Acting NEA Chairman Joan Shigekawa said, “These NEA-supported projects will not only have a positive impact on local economies, but will also provide opportunities for people of all ages to participate in the arts, help our communities to become more vibrant, and support our nation’s artists as they contribute to our cultural landscape.”

Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts. A complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support is available at the NEA website at

MSO Education and Community Engagement Director Michelle Kaebisch (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) commented, “HeartStrings is a signature program of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and has transformed healthcare environments by bringing meaningful musical experiences directly to individuals across south-central Wisconsin. This nationally-recognized community engagement initiative combines the profound impact of live music with interactive, music therapy-informed activities designed to promote the well being of traditionally underserved populations.”

Michelle Kaebisch WYSO cr Katrin Talbot


Here is a link to background preview with information about tickets and program notes to the program about the musical legacy of American composer George Gershwin (see the photo of Gershwin further down) with music by Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Harold Arlen.

Clearly, the program  points to what George Gershwin might have achieved had he lived longer than 39 and had he developed the orchestral skills he was exploring in the “Catfish Row” Suite he extracted from his folk opera “Porgy and Bess.” (You can hear it performed by conductor James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Also, two stars are born at the MSO concert — by which I mean that two local talents were given the opportunity to stand out, and they did: the young pianist Garrick Olsen (below top) and the increasingly familiar soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom), who was trained at the University of Wisconsin-Madiosn School of Music and then the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Garrick Olsen MSO 2014

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

Just read the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus. Here is a link:


And here is a link to the review by Greg Hettsmanberger (below) for Madison Magazine:

greg hettmansberger mug

And here are links to the MSO’s new 2014-15 season:

gershwin with pipe


On this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music Masters Singers will perform a FREE concert.

The choir will singer under the direction of Anna Volodarskaya and Adam Kluck (below).

Sorry, no word about the program.

Adam Kluck conducting


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its new 2014-15 season. It includes programs from Bach to Hollywood exiles from Hitler and the Nazis, acclaimed soloists and ticket prices with only modest increases.

March 19, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) has just announced its next season for 2014-15.


It strikes The Ear as both deeply interesting and tightly cohesive, a good blend of sure-fire hits and unknown or rarely heard repertoire. It also features some fine local talent and some unusual repertoire, though, unlike the past several seasons, no new or contemporary music is included. After all, this is a business with seats to fill, not some theoretical exercise in programming.

“You can’t have everything, especially when you are playing only eight concerts,” lamented MSO maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) when he discussed the new season with me.

But, DeMain added, the MSO is exploring doing another Chicago Symphony Orchestra “Beyond the Score” format concert — like this season’s presentation of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which sold out — probably in January and probably with more than one performance, if they can find a sponsor to front the $50,000 cost. Then he will decide on what work out of more than 20 possibilities would be right.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Concerts take place in Overture Hall in the Overture Center on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

The deadline for subscriptions renewals and keeping your current seat is May 8.

Here is the official press release that unveils the new season. The Ear also talked at length one-on-one with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain. Since the announcement is long enough for one post, DeMain’s insightful comments will appear a bit later in another post.

mso from above


Maestro John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will deliver a diverse and exciting season of composers and guest artists for 2014-2015.

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly-talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season.  Russia, Scandinavia, and Golden-Age Hollywood are just a few of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the orchestra, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists has been invited to Madison for the season’s performances, including violinist Sarah Chang, pianist Olga Kern, violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Ingrid Fliter and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor.

SEPTEMBER 19, 20 and 21, 2014

“Orchestral Splendor,” John DeMain, Conductor

RICHARD STRAUSS, “Also sprach Zarathustra”

FRANK MARTIN, Concerto for Seven Winds

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS, Symphony No. 3 (“Organ” Symphony)

German composer Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra was once among his least performed works, but it is now firmly established as standard orchestral repertoire.  The trumpet theme and thunderous timpani entrance (heard in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) are unmistakable.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds was written in 1949.  It features seven solo instruments, exploring differences in sonority and expression.  The virtuosic and conversational writing in these piece results in a playful, sportive character.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, known also as the “Organ” Symphony, draws on elements of both the conventional symphony and the tone poem. Formally unusual in its own time, yet popular from its conception, the work features virtuosic piano and organ passages and a masterful display of the vast colors possible in the symphony orchestra.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

OCTOBER 17, 18 and 19, 2014

“The Russian Spirit” with John DeMain, conductor, and Olga Kern (below), piano


SERGEI RACHMANINOFF, Concerto No. 1 for Piano


The Suite from “Swan Lake” tells the magical tale of a young prince enchanted by a swan maiden under the moonlight.  Peter Tchaikovsky’s charming work utilizes haunting melodies, captivating waltzes, Russian and Hungarian folk themes, and a Spanish dance.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano displays a youthful freshness and an assertive, extroverted personality.  Indeed, the composer began this work when he was 17!  For audience members who delight in keyboard fireworks, this piece will thrill.

Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich, written as war clouds were gathering in Russia, was quite a contrast to Symphony No. 5.  Lopsided movement lengths, a lack of obvious theme, and characters of anxiety and desolation reflect the intriguing political situation of the time, as well as Shostakovich’s own remarkably wide emotional compass.

Olga Kern, Mogens Dahl Konsertsal 26.1.2009

NOVEMBER 7, 8 and 9, 2014

“Scandinavian Wonders” with John DeMain, conductor, and Sarah Chang (below), violin


JEAN SIBELIUS, Concerto for Violin

CARL NIELSEN, Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”)

Over the course of his long career, Edvard Grieg composed 66 Lyric pieces for piano, strongly rooted in the songs, dances, mythology, and spirit of Norway.  He selected four of these fragrant and diverse miniatures for an orchestral suite, premiered in 1906.

 “…For…10 years it was my dearest wish to become a great virtuoso.” wrote Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his diary.  Unfortunately the composer never reached great proficiency on the instrument, and his Concerto for Violin, awash in Nordic textures, expresses a melancholic farewell to that childhood dream.

As a philosophical guideline to his often raging Symphony No. 4, Danish composer Carl Nielsen said, “Music is life, and, like life, inextinguishable”.  Four interlinked movements of frequently agitated energy lead to a climax of ultimate triumph and grand 19th century symphonic tradition.

Sarah Chang playing

DECEMBER 5, 6 and 7, 2014

A Madison Symphony Christmas

With John DeMain, conductor; Alyson Cambridge (below), soprano; Harold Meers, tenor; the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director; the Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, artistic director; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Leotha Stanley, director.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

Alyson Cambridge

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

FEBRUARY 13, 14 and 15, 2015

“Fliter Plays Chopin” with John DeMain, conductor, and Ingrid Fliter (below), piano

BENJAMIN BRITTEN, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge

FREDERIC CHOPIN, Concerto No. 2 for Piano


Frank Bridge, one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest composition teachers, was certainly responsible for the surpassing clarity, individuality, and discipline in Britten’s most cherished works.  Britten’s “Variations” on Bridge’s theme range from passionate to playful, capturing the heartfelt musical admiration of a pupil for his teacher.

From the moment he arrived in Paris at age 21, Frederic Chopin drew the admiration of both the public and esteemed critics, alike.  Concerto No. 2 was in fact his first concerto, displaying the composer’s prolific improvisatory and imaginative style.  

In composing Symphony No. 4, Robert Schumann departed significantly from the standard Classical form he previously employed, connecting all four movements with recurring musical ideas–a novel proposition at the time.

Ingrid Fliter playing

MARCH 6, 7 and 8, 2015

“Composers in Exile: Creating the Hollywood Sound” with John DeMain, conductor, and  Daniel Hope (below), violin

FRANZ WAXMAN, Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani Ride of the Cossacks from “Taras Bulba”

MIKLÓS RÓZSA, Theme, Variations and Finale;  Parade of the Charioteers from “Ben Hur”;                          Love Theme from “Ben Hur”; Love Theme from “Spellbound”

ERICH KORNGOLD, Concerto for Violin and the  Suite from “Captain Blood”

This unique concert features the works of great classical composers before they fled Nazi persecution and also showcases their later brilliant contributions to Hollywood film scores.

Franz Waxman (below) is responsible for a long list of memorable Hollywood scores, including “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Rebecca.”  His Sinfonietta, written for only strings and timpani, is comprised of three wildly different movements. Waxman also composed the soundtrack for the 1962 epic, “Taras Bulba.”  “Ride of the Cossacks” is the exhilarating theme to which Taras and his army gallop to Dubno.

Franz Waxman

According to Miklos Rózsa (below), his “Theme” was conceived in the manner of a Hungarian folk song, then treated in variations of contrasting feeling, and summarized in a wild and swift finale.  The 1934 work earned him his first international success. By the late 1940’s Rózsa was an Oscar-winning, film score composer, and joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.  His thrilling score for the 1959 film “Ben Hur” is one of his lasting achievements, earning him his third and final Oscar.

Miklos Rozsa

The Concerto for Violin, written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (bel0w top) in 1945, perfectly blends the two musical lives of the composer, unapologetic in both its rigorous craftsmanship and its Hollywood charm. “Captain Blood” was a milestone for Korngold, as it was his first fully symphonic movie score.  Produced in only three weeks, the music evidences his most professional and imaginative effort.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano


APRIL 10, 11 and 12, 2015

“Piano Genius” with John DeMain, conductor, and Christopher Taylor (below), piano

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, Concerto No. 4 for Clavier

FRANZ LISZT, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

ANTON BRUCKNER, Symphony No. 7

Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach is part of a set of six concertos, dated to 1738.  The piece was originally written for harpsichord and is ripe with movement and ornamentation. Bach’s concertos laid a crucial formal and harmonic groundwork for centuries of composition to follow.

Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano is more than a century-long leap forward in time. Liszt’s Romantic genius is unabashedly on display, with thick orchestration, cadenzas that range from delicate to thundering, and lush harmonies.

Anton Bruckner was a country man, transplanted into bustling cosmopolitan Vienna, and he and his music were unlikely successes with audiences and critics. His music was said to “compel the element of the divine into our human world”.


MAY 8, 9 and 10, 2015

“Ode to Joy” with John DeMain, conductor; concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below top), violin; Melody Moore, soprano; Gwendolyn Brown, contralto; Eric Barry, tenor; Morris Robinson (below bottom), bass; and the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN, “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)

Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” for violin and orchestra, resulted from a rereading of Plato’s charming dialogue, “The Symposium.”  The music dances through a series of inter-related “speakers” at a banquet (Phaedrus, Aristophanes, Erixymachus, Agathon, and Socrates), praising love.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s last and monumental Symphony No. 9 stands apart from his other symphonies by virtue of its humanistic message, enormous scale and organic unity of design.  The mammoth fourth movement, operating like a symphony in miniature, is like nothing else in symphonic music.  Four soloists, full chorus, the entire orchestra, and the famous “Ode to Joy” theme will conclude the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season. (You can hear a populist flash mob version of the “Ode to Joy” at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that had almost 4-1/2 million hits.)

Morris Robinson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

Single tickets for individual concerts have increased slightly and are $16 to $84 each, and go on sale Aug. 16. They are 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 savings up to 50%.  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,

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

You can also check out the official MSO website announcement of the new season by visiting:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at

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Classical music: After Spring Break, the music season’s endgame starts with the season finale of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which is featuring an unusual but appealing program. Plus, a short concert of student compositions will be featured tonight at the UW-Madison.

April 2, 2013

ALERT: Tonight, Tuesday night, April 2, at 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall (below), a short concert of compositions by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will take place. It is free and open to the public

Morphy Hall 2

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring Break is over – it ended Monday – and that means that there are about six more weeks left to the current academic year and the second semester. And thus to the current non-summer concert season.

Perhaps the first group to close out the season is the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson). The MSO gives three performances of its season finale this weekend.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Now, I have to be honest. The program is one of the more unusual, that The Ear has ever seen. But that is precisely what so intrigues me about it and why the concert is so appealing to me. This is definitely NOT business as usual.

But as usual, performances will be given in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:3o p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $13.50-$78.50 and can be reserved by calling the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

So what is it that has struck me as so unusual about this program — which includes works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries — ever since I first heard about it a year ago, when the current season was unveiled?

Well, I understand programming Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. It is a great spring-like popular work, a lyrical work with soaring upbeat and song-like melodies, even though it was composed in a minor key (E minor). And it is a chance to showcase the formidable talents of concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below), who is now finishing up her second season with the MSO and who has virtuosic talents of her own to show off in a solo appearance.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

And I also understand programming the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus, which is directed and prepared by Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who is the director of the Choral Department at the UW-Madison as well as the MSO’s assistant conductor.

In fact, the MSO Chorus is often used to end the season with a bang, putting a big group on-stage to make a big sound.

But the pieces it will sing for this concert seem like an unexpected mix.

First there are excerpts from George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Solomon.” The orchestra will play “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” an effective curtain-raiser that is often played by itself; and then there will be three choruses.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Now, my concerns are definitely NOT those of a purist. In fact I am happy to see the MSO doing Baroque music. I have long wanted the MSO to do more Bach and Handel, as well as Haydn, Mozart and Schubert from the Classical-era.

And I am not along in wishing for Big Bach, given that the New York Philharmonic has just staged a festival of “Bach Variations,” helping to reclaim him from the early music and period instrument ensembles that have – it is absolutely true – changed forever the way that Bach and other early composers are performed and heard.

But except for chronology, the Handel oratorio, great as it is, does seem an odd choice for an opening work.

Then the orchestra and chorus will perform Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells,” which DeMain says he heard recently and was quite taken with. I trust his judgment, though I and many others know Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) much more through his solo piano works, his piano concertos, his symphonies and his chamber and vocal music. I also know the “Isle of the Dead” (which was used in the Frank Langella movie version of “Dracula”).

Rachmaninoff had a thing with bells, including the popular “Bells of Moscow” Prelude in C-sharp minor and several other preludes.

But I have also heard DeMain conduct Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” very effectively, and I have heard Beverly Taylor lead the UW Choral Union in Rachmaninoff’s lengthy a cappella work “All-Night Vigil.” So I give the MSO the benefit of the doubt and look forward to the new and the unexpected.


Then the MSO chorus will return to wrap up the concert with a true rarity that I have never heard or heard of: the work by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (below) work “Toward the Unknown Region.”

Well, it is aptly named since it is rarely performed or recorded. But again, I defer to the taste of John DeMain, who has time and again shown that he knows how to find and program unusual works that are, in the end, make for a compelling program and total experience.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

If you want to know more and hear a preview, here is a link:

Here is a link to program notes by MSO trombone player and music teacher at UW-Whitewater J. Michael Allsen:

What do you think of the program?

Do you have light to shed on the various works?

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its new season, which celebrates the 20th year of maestro John DeMain’s tenure with a mix of the new and the predictable. Tickets will increase 5 percent.

March 16, 2013

ALERT: In case you haven’t already heard the news, Middleton High School pianist Christopher Eom (below, on the far left) won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Final Forte” part of the Bolz Young Artists Competition on Thursday night when he performed the first movement of Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2. Here is a link to the MSO website with other information, including biographies of all the four participants and when the live airing by Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television will be re-broadcast.

final forte 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday afternoon, the Madison Symphony Orchestra announced its next season for 2013-14. As in the past five season, it is holding its subscription concerts to eight, with a ninth one-performance only special event  added. Difficult economic times forced the MSO to reduce its season several years ago.

Tickets will also increase 5 percent, according to Executive Director Rick Mackie.

“We have held the line on no increase for many years,” Mackie told The Ear. “But costs are going up. We had to do something.”

2013-24 is a special season because it marks the 20th anniversary of the tenure of music director and conductor John DeMain, who came to Madison from the Houston Grand Opera, where he was the artistic director. DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad) also is the music director of the Madison Opera, which will soon announce its new season.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

To mark the occasion, an MSO press release says, DeMain has put together a season designed to highlight the growth of the ensemble during his tenure, which will be showcased prominently in September by opening with an all-orchestral season premiere.

Regular MSO concerts take place in the Overture Center’s Overture Hall (below) on Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.


Throughout the season, DeMain has programmed works by composers integral to his relationship with the orchestra, including Copland, Beethoven, Gershwin, Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff and Strauss.

A world-class roster of guest artists — their desire to return to Madison is more proof, says DeMain, of the high caliber of the MSO’s ensemble playing — has been invited to Madison for the season’s performances, including pianist Yefim Bronfman, violinist Augustin Hadelich, organist Nathan Laube, and Tony Award-winning singer Karen Ziemba.

New this season is a one-performance only presentation of Beyond the Score® in January, featuring Symphony No. 9 (“New World”) in a multimedia context that illuminates the stories behind the music.

The orchestra’s website has already been updated about the new season. Details about purchasing tickets and the concert season­­–including music previews and guest artist biographies–can be found on the MSO website at

The season begins on September 27, 28 and 29, 2013 with a program of orchestral favorites spotlighting the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The American harmonies of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” open the concert, followed by Richard Wagner’s majestic and moving Prelude and Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde.” Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic “Scheherazade” concludes this program of touchstone works that demonstrate the full expressive range of orchestral music and highlight MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below).

Naha Greenholtz [playing

On October 18, 19 and 20, 2013 French pianist Philippe Bianconi (below, in a photo by Bernard Martinez) returns to the MSO for a performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. Of the piece, Bianconi says, “What I really love is that it’s like playing in a symphony. Being immersed in the orchestral texture is always an exhilarating experience.” Two 20th century works round out the program: Benjamin Britten’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell” (better known as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra), recently featured prominently in Wes Anderson’s Academy Award-nominated film “Moonrise Kingdom,” and Debussy’s “La Mer,” a musical seascape sure to transport audiences.

Philippe Bianconi by Bernard Martinez

The program for November 15, 16, and 17, 2013 features violinist Augustin Hadelich (below)  — one of The Ear’s favorite young fiddlers — in Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole.” Hailed as “one of the most distinctive violinists of his generation” by The New York Times, Hadelich describes the Lalo as “emotional and hot-blooded” and is excited to help listeners “rediscover what a great piece it is” as he makes his second appearance with the orchestra. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Too Hot Toccata” opens the program and the lush Romanticism of Rachmaninoff is on full display in his Symphony No. 2.

Augustin Hadelich 1

Conductor DeMain and the orchestra don their Santa hats for the 20th anniversary of A Madison Symphony Christmas (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) on December 6, 7, and 8, 2013. A beloved Madison tradition, this concert brings together the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir with outstanding guest vocalists. This season, soprano Melody Moore (below top) and bass Nathan Stark (below bottom, in a photo by Paul Sarouchman) take the stage to help mark Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season.

MSO Christmas Hall by Greg Anderson

Melody Moore No Credit

Nathan Stark by  Paul Sirouchman 1

January 26, 2014, brings a special, one performance-only concert entitled Beyond the Score®. The first half of this concert is a multi-media exploration of Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) by Antonin Dvorak (below), weaving together historical narrative with live actors, visual illustrations and musical examples played by the MSO, all exploring the life and times of the composer. The second half is a full performance of the work. Beyond the Score® is designed not only for classical music aficionados, but also for newcomers looking to delve deeper into the world of classical music. Developed by and licensed from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Beyond the Score® has been celebrated by orchestras and critics around the country, with the Chicago Tribune raving, “Seldom has enlightenment proved so entertaining.”


On February 14, 15, and 16, 2014 the young Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tine Thing Helseth (below, in a photo by Colin Bell of EMI Classics) makes her MSO debut in performances of two contrasting concertos: Hadyn’s Concerto for Trumpet, and Arutiunian’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. The concertos are framed by three orchestral gems: Sibelius’ symphonic poem “Finlandia,” the “Doctor Atomic” Symphony from John Adams’ new American opera of the same name, and Strauss’ Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier,” which DeMain, known as an opera conductor, says is his favorite opera.

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

Beethoven is at the heart of the orchestral experience and no anniversary celebration would be complete without his music. Concerts on March 7, 8, and 9, 2014, offer an ALL-BEETHOVEN program and features one of the world’s great pianists, Yefim Bronfman (below, in a photo by Odad Antman), in not one, but two concertos by Beethoven: his rarely played Piano Concerto No. 2 (actually composed before the first) and Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”). The Beethoven bonanza continues throughout the program, with the orchestra performing his Symphony No. 1 and Overture to “The Creatures of Prometheus— from the great composer’s only ballet!

Yefim Bronfman 1 by Oded Antman

April 4, 5, and 6, 2014 brings together six guest artists for spectacular performances of Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” and Mozart’s Requiem led by acclaimed guest conductor Julian Wachner, praised as a “major talent” by The Boston Globe. Organist Nathan Laube (below top) is featured in the Jongen, a grand, dramatic concerto heard previously in Madison at the dedication of the Overture Concert Organ. UW-Madison trained soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom), mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, tenor Wesley Rogers, and bass Liam Moran join the Madison Symphony Chorus for Mozart’s Requiem, his final composition and one of his most compelling to this day. Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 1 opens the program.

Nathan Laube at console

Emily Birsan less tarty 2 NoCredit

Concluding the season on May 2, 3, and 4, 2014, is a concert event close to Maestro DeMain’s heart: “The Gershwin Legacy.” George Gershwin left an indelible imprint on American music, says DeMain who is known for his award-winning performances and Grammy-winning recording of “Porgy and Bess.” This grand finale brings together soprano Emily Birsan, and Broadway stars Karen Ziemba (below top) and Ron Raines (below bottom). The program features works by Gershwin, including the fascinating “I Got Rhythm Variations,” which will be played by 2012 Bolz Young Artist Competition winner, local pianist Garrick Olsen (below middle, in a photo by Chris Paskas), along with the “Catfish Row Suite” from “Porgy and Bess.”  Then Leonard Bernstein steps up with the Symphonic Dances fromWest Side Story,” and music by Kurt Weill, Marc Blitzstein and Stephen Sondheim — all also influenced by Gershwin — round out the season finale. It is a fitting closer since DeMain worked closely with Bernstein.

Karen Ziemba (vertical)

Garrick Olsen by Chris Paskus 2

ron raines

As for tickets:

As mentioned above, there is a 5 percent ticket increase.

The MSO is also continuing its popular new subscriber discount of 50% off single ticket prices for subscriptions of six, seven and eight concerts. New subscriber packages start at just $56 for five concerts, including a 40% discount off single ticket prices. There is no deadline for new subscriptions; however, patrons are encouraged to order early for the best available seats.

Renewing subscribers save up to 25% off the price of single tickets. The renewal deadline in May 6.

In addition to subscriber discounts, unlimited ticket exchange and optional reserved subscriber parking in the Dane County Ramp, the MSO also offers an exclusive 10% discount on single tickets during Subscriber Courtesy Days, August 10-12, 2013.

Subscribers can contact the MSO by calling (608) 257-3734 with questions or to be added to the mailing list.


Classical music: This weekend’s concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and returning violinist Henning Kraggerud offer a terrific mix of Classical-era Mozart and modernist Shostakovich. Plus, a UW-Madison horn and trombone duo, with electronics, plays a FREE concert tonight.

March 6, 2013
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A REMINDER: Tonight, Wednesday, March 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall,  the duo “Gretzler”  — made up of UW-Madison hornist Daniel Grabois (below) and UW-Madison trombonist Mark Hetzler will perform a FREE concert. The new electronica power duo combines the horn and trombone with electronics, both computer- and hardware-based. The program will feature “Volcano Songs” by Meredith Monk; “Available Forms” by Meyer Kupferman; “Videotape” by Radiohead; and “Love Meant Living” Alone by Daniel Grabois.

Daniel Grabois color use

By Jacob Stockinger

It is exactly my kind of programming: Putting very disparate or contrasting styles side-by-side, and it often proves irresistible.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (below) has done it before—one of the most memorable examples for me was his combining Haydn cello concerto with a massive Mahler symphony, and the last MSO concert combined Prokofiev and Beethoven. This weekend he is doing is again with the “Champagne and Vodka” program.

This time, Mozart is the champagne and Shostakovich is the vodka. But you don’t even have to be a drinker to get intoxicated by this music.

John DeMain conducting 2

This weekend, DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) team up with the quiet but forceful Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud.

Kraggerud (below) will perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4, the most elegant of the composer’s five violin concertos – Mozart was an excellent violinist as well as keyboardist. They are all relatively early works, full of charm but less dramatic and less dark than many of Mozart’s later and more mature works.

Henning Kraggerud playing

The MSO will open the concert with the lively overture to Mozart’s opera “The Impresario” and conclude with Shostakovich’s powerful Symphony No. 10.

The MSO concerts will take place in Overture Hall at 201 State Street this Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16.50 to $78.50, and are available at and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, (608) 258-4141. Groups of 15 or more save 25 percent.

Seniors and students save 20 percent, and the MSO’s $10 Student Rush is good for best available seats on the day of the concert. Discounted seats are subject to availability and discounts may not be combined.

Full concert details, music samples and links to buy tickets can be found on the MSO website at

For comprehensive but very accessible program notes by MSO trombone player and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen, visit:

Allsen (below) will also be giving the free pre-concert talks.

MEMF 2012 J. Michael Allsen

Kraggerud, who is returning to the MSO stage for the third time in just six years, has been praised for his “virtuosity minus theatrics” by the Washington Post, and has gained a reputation as a violinist to watch: “Kraggerud has extraordinary sweetness of tone,” said The Telegraph of London recently, “his sound always dances as much as it sings.”

About the D Major Mozart concerto, Kraggerud said, “The Mozart concerto is one of my favorites. It is like champagne in the bloodstream, so fresh.”

All five of violin concertos by Mozart (below) were written in 1775 when the composer was a teenager. Though they are youthful works, the violin concertos are also worldly, showing the influence of Mozart’s having traveled through much of Europe as a child prodigy, absorbing ideas and influences. The overture that opens the concert is light and comic, an apt introduction.

mozart big

By contrast, the Shostakovich symphony that closes the March concerts is a late work and was first performed after the death of the ruthless Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who had threatened the composer many times, in 1953.

The Symphony No. 10 is in many ways the reaction of Shostakovich (below) to Stalin’s death as the tight artistic controls of the 1930s and ‘40s were relaxed. It represents a new beginning, pouring forth all that had been repressed under the dictator’s oppression.

dmitri shostakovich

Anyone wishing to share dining and conversation with other music lovers can join Club 501 before any Saturday or Sunday performance. Hosted by members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, Club 501 welcomes everyone to the Madison Concourse Hotel’s Dayton Street Grille on concert Saturdays at 6 p.m. and concert Sundays at 12:30 p.m.

Participants receive a generous 20% meal discount and free parking with a validated underground parking ticket. Guests should ask for the Club 501 tables when arriving. Reservations are welcome — but not necessary — at (608) 294-3068.

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