Wineke: It was Marc Fink weekend at the Madison Symphony Orchestra

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Madison Symphony Orchestra

Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain has been trying to present Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for three years – the first two tries were canceled by COVID – and finally led the MSO in a spectacular rendition during weekend concerts.

But the collective heart of the audience went to Marc Fink, an MSO musician for 49 years and its principal oboist since 1988. He retired from the orchestra at the end of last season.

Fink was invited to return as the guest soloist for the concert’s opening number, Mozart’s “Concerto in C Major for Oboe and Orchestra.”

A modest professional, his workmanlike performance was so steady that, when he inserted a few bars of “On Wisconsin” into the piece it took a few seconds to realize that Mozart hadn’t intended it that way.

Fink is pretty much symbolic of the MSO musicians and a favorite of the audience, so much so that he received not one, but two standing ovations at the Friday performance.

DeMain, who is beginning his 29th year leading the orchestra, may not always be as flamboyant as he once was but he came pretty close as he conducted the 65-minute long Ninth Symphony.

It is a wonderful piece of music, employing the Madison Symphony Chorus and four excellent soloists, Laquita Mitchell, soprano; Kirsten Lippart, mezzo-soprano;  Jared Esguerra, tenor and Matt Boehler, bass.

Before the Friday concert began, DeMain explained the chorus would come on stage between the third and fourth movements so that its 100 or so singers wouldn’t have to sit there for the long first three movements, and he asked the audience not to applaud for fear of breaking the spell of the symphony, conceding as he did so that he has no power to force an audience to do anything against its will.

But, when the audience returned after intermission, the entire chorus was seated behind the orchestra so, apparently, the singers also rebelled.

At any rate, it was a powerful presentation, especially the choral movement, which revolves around a theme of joy and a tune better known to most churchgoers as the basis for the hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

Those aren’t really the English translation of the German text. The concert helpfully projected English subtitles on a screen, at one point noting that “Even the Worm is Granted Ecstasy.”

The pandemic, while in retreat, is not yet forgotten. The Overture Center and the MSO no longer require that masks be worn but “strongly recommend” that people wear them anyway. Probably about half the patrons and half the musicians did so. The chorus members were all masked during the first three movements but most removed them to begin singing.