The programs of the Madison Symphony Orchestra's first season under the baton of its new music director, John Demain, indicate a number of innovations and potential new directions. From a growth point of view, probably the most immediately important of these is the advent of Sunday matinees for two of the eight offerings next season.
This is a bold and somewhat risky step, repeating the program of the preceding evening, but one we've long hoped for, as it adds the potential of bringing a program to a larger audience. The risk, of course, is that neither the Saturday evening nor the Sunday afternoon concert will fill the house. But for the past several seasons, the Oscar Mayer Theater has been nearly packed for every MSO concert, so there's a good chance most of the current subscribers will stay with Saturday and a large new audience will find the Sunday matinee performance fits its preferences well. There is a critical advantage, too: repeating a program (a holiday spectacular in December and performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to close the season next May) offers the prospect of higher quality, refined by an extra pass through the fire of public performance pressure.
The prospect of solid quality also attends the programs themselves. Most of the soloists for the coming season are unknown to Madison audiences: pianist Awadagin Pratt, violinist Robert McDuffie, singers Elizabeth Jones, Gregory Hopkins and Donnie Ray Albert, plus three guest conductors, Richard Buckley, Bill Conti, and Elizabeth Schulze. This offers the excitement of the new. Kitt Reuter-Foss, Madison's own Metropolitan Opera star, will also appear. Demain will conduct the other five programs, which including the matinees adds up to seven performances.
At least as bright a prospect is the fare to be offered in the new season. There's no such thing as too much Mozart, and we'll have three important works from that master's pen, plus the Beethoven 1st and 9th Symphonies (together), the 2nd Symphony of Tchaikovsky, the Brahms 4th Symphony, and a couple of sure-fire crowd-pleasers, Kodaly's Suite from Hary Janos and Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture. One can think of all these as pretty much standard fare, though I've never heard the Tchaikovsky in a live performance.
Mahler (the 1st Symphony) may not be rare, but it has very seldom been heard here, a major deficiency that will be remedied in the season opener. That program will also include the moving Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein and the sublime Ave verum corpus, K. 618, by Mozart, assisted by the Madison Symphony Chorus. Other programs will feature Saint-Saens' 4th Piano Concerto (rather than the 2nd or 5th, which are more often heard), Samuel Barber's wonderful Violin Concerto, Humperdinck's irresistible Hansel and Gretel, Britten's wild and exciting Four Sea Interludes, Joan Tower's Clarinet Concerto (with the orchestra's wonderful Linda Bartley as soloist), and several other fine works.
With so much that is new, the next season is bound to be a major stone in the MSO's still-rising arch as the town's leading cultural asset. Demain's task is nothing if not demanding, and especially if he carries out the rumored auditioning of all the players, we could be looking at a huge leap forward in all respects.
Isthmus, May, 1994
Copyright 1994 Jess Anderson