Wineke: Madison Symphony Orchestra is more Than music

Wineke: Popular pianist highlights season change in Madison
Photo courtesy of Madison Magazine

There are things about the Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts that make me happy but don’t directly involve listening to music.

For example: At the opening of Friday night’s concert, Conductor John DeMain came on stage to explain the absence of General Manager Ann Bowen from last month’s opening concert.

Bowen is a fixture of the concerts. She brings DeMain’s music to the podium before anything else happens.

The thing is, DeMain explained, that’s not her job. Technically it was the job of Kathryn Taylor, the MSO librarian. But Taylor also plays violin in the symphony, so she can’t do it.

So, for the past 25 years, Bowen has been carrying the music, sometimes receiving her own ovation as she does so.

Now, Taylor has retired, though she continues to play in the symphony, and DeMain used the occasion to bring Bowen out on stage to receive her own applause.

I just do not see that happening in New York City.

Another thing that makes me happy is whenever Randall Swiggum delivers the pre-symphony lecture. He is accustomed to explaining music to kids and, by the time he finishes his half-hour discussion, I usually feel that I half-understand the music I soon will be writing about.

Ah, yes, the music.

It was a great concert. Violinist James Ehnes is making his fourth appearance with the MSO (Previously in 2012, 2015 and 2019) and he played Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” with the sophistication that explains why he was invited back for a fourth time.

Ehnes plays a Stradivarius violin built in 1715. For comparative reference, George Washington was born in 1732 and Benjamin Franklin was nine years old when Stradivarius built the violin.

Ehnes, elegant in white tie and tails, elicits the best from that noble instrument and the audience loved it.

Speaking of the audience, it is apparent that the days of face masks are over. The Overture Center no longer requires them. At the September concert, about half of the audience wore masks. On Friday, only a handful of people did.

Also on the program was Richard Strauss’s “Death and Transfiguration” a piece, no surprise, that symbolizes a man’s death and release from physical suffering; and Felix Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony.

Swiggum had explained to us that the entire program was dead serious without any levity and, I guess, that was true. But the quality of the music was such that the entire program seemed over in no time.