After three relatively cautious seasons under new direction, the Madison Symphony Orchestra has pulled out all the stops for next year. "When I took over from Roland Johnson," says MSO music director John DeMain, "he told me his fondest wish was that we would move to subscription pairs" -- repeating the Saturday evening program on Sunday afternoon -- "and for next year we've done just that: all eight subscription concerts will be paired."
In addition to the eight pairs, there will be a gala concert featuring the world-famous bass Samuel Ramey, together with the MSO under DeMain, the Madison Opera Chorus, the Madison Symphony Chorus, and the Madison Boychoir; this event is being billed as the concert of the decade, which is probably not an overstatement.
The subscription programs are also very strong. Guest conductors include the former conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony, Kenneth Schermerhorn, who will open the season, and Janna Hymes-Bianchi, a graduate of the UW-Madison and a top prize-winner at the 1988 International Conducting Competition in Besancon, France. Each has included a fascinating piano soloist on their program, Ignat Solzhenitsyn (son of Nobel laureate Alexander) playing the Beethoven "Emperor" Concerto and Janina Fialkowska, well known to Madison audiences, playing the Chopin 2nd Concerto.
Madison natives Jennifer and Laura Frautschi, both virtuoso violinists, will debut with the MSO in an all-French program that also includes a major challenge for DeMain, the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. During the season, DeMain will also continue the Mahler series with the 4th Symphony, as well as present the Beethoven 4th. Schermerhorn will conduct the Brahms 2nd Symphony, while Hymes-Bianchi will lead the Shostakovich 9th. All of this is bright repertory indeed.
Other fare of major importance includes cellist Lynn Harrell, the renowned American soprano Helen Donath, popular jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, a bevy of soloists for the season-ending performance of Orff's Carmina Burana, and an unprecedented amount of 20th-century music.
"There is a 20th-century composer on each program," DeMain notes, "and for the last four concerts, the composer is still living." Two of these offerings look especially intriguing. David DiChiera's orchestral settings of four sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay will receive their world premiere performance, with Donath as soloist. The 28-year-old composer Christopher Theofanidis's 1995 piece This Dream, Strange and Moving is reported to represent the latest generation of accessible classical music.
Other events rounding out the season include an all-Beethoven evening in which MSO associate conductor Beverly Taylor will lead the Madison Symphony Chorus, together with members of the MSO and piano soloist Bill Lutes. Taylor will also conduct "Tchaikowsky Discovers America," a music and story performance especially geared to ages six and up.
Noting other developments, MSO general manager Sandy Madden points out a convenient ticketing innovation: "Flex-Tickets provide a booklet of eight vouchers, which can be exchanged for tickets in any desired arrangement: all eight for one performance, one at a time for eight performances, or any combination in between."
The pairs idea has paid off by building new audience: close to 4000 seats have been filled this year, which is getting close to twice the single-event, 2300-seat capacity of the Oscar Mayer Theater. In all, the coming season looks very promising for the MSO, both financially and artistically.
Isthmus, April, 1997
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson