submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Margaret Murphy
Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain joined us in his first event to celebrate the 25th year of his leadership here in Madison. Twenty-five years is an extraordinary time for a modern conductor to stay with an orchestra. We have been lucky to have him here for a quarter century.
John began by very generously crediting his predecessor, Roland Johnson, for his long service to the MSO and as creator of the Madison Opera as part of the MSO. He credited Mr. Johnson with making the orchestra professional and with recruiting the services of UW faculty and students. John also explained the changes that he has brought. At one time, the orchestra performed eight single concerts a year. When Roland Johnson passed the baton to John, he urged him to build on his work developing an audience. John has tripled the audience during his tenure. Today, the season consists of a series of eight concerts, each performed three times, on Friday and Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon. The MSO has done more than increase its audience and its string section (now full-sized). In his first year, John initiated blind auditions for prospective musicians. UW faculty joined the orchestra, which encouraged their students to participate as well. The result was fine musicianship. [Anyone who has heard the MSO will agree that it is shockingly good. Its string section is vibrant and its sound has a sheen.]
John also thanked Pleasant and Jerry Frautschi for their astounding gift of the Overture Center, including Overture Hall, which has a splendid acoustic that allows us to hear how beautifully the MSO plays. John also spoke of the several associated organizations and programs affiliated with the MSO.
John concluded on a somewhat somber note. Former UW Chancellor John Wiley was in attendance. He upgraded the School of Music during his tenure. Some of his work is being undone because of funding woes: many of the faculty are no longer tenure-track. They and their students are less likely to join the MSO. However, fine musicians from elsewhere are maintaining the orchestra’s excellence.
The Maestro made one last point: Madisonians should include the MSO in their entertainment options. This reviewer agrees. As an old ad in New York once proclaimed: “Try It, You’ll Like It.”
We express a special thanks to the MSO: The Rhapsodie Quartet: Susanne Beia, Laura Burns, Chris Dozoryst and Karl Lavine. The quartet performed a movement from the American String Quartet written by Antonin Dvořák. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.