Wineke: Popular pianist highlights season change in Madison

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

Up until Sunday when a cold rain ended Madison’s unusually warm October, pianist Olga Kern must have thought this is a pretty special place.

Kern, who grew up in Russia but now lives in New York City, was the highlight of the weekend’s Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Things were pretty nice Friday and Saturday, especially Saturday when the Badgers won their homecoming game and the streets were filled with happy, and even polite, men and women of all ages who were feeling little or no pain.

Sunday, not so much. But Kern seems to like Madison and Madison definitely likes Kern. She previously played with the MSO in 2009, 2010 and 2015 and filled the Overture Theater whenever she played.

This weekend she played Samuel Barber’s “Overture for Piano and Orchestra,” a piece commissioned for the opening of New York City’s Lincoln Center in 1962.

It is an intense work of music and the audience clearly was enthusiastic. The standing ovation began even as the last notes of the Concerto rang through the hall.

Kern is both a talented and stylish performer, one who changes striking evening gowns for each performance. Saturday night, she wore a sea-colored gown with a puffed flair at shoe level, giving her the appearance of an unusually beautiful mermaid.

One interesting aspect of Kern’s followers is that they come to hear her only. After she performs, a number of seats in the performance hall are empty for the second part of the program, which is too bad because the symphony concluded its program with Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. This is one of the most popular symphonies in America. It’s the one that features the tune for “Goin’ Home” in the second movement.

Dvorak wrote it in New York City in 1893 and the symphony is filled with fragments of Bohemian folk songs, which have now become so much a part of American music that many of us – well, me, at least – just figure Dvorak picked up American tunes.

At any rate, John DeMain’s orchestra did a wonderful job and, so, for that matter, did DeMain. As the tempo picked up, the conductor almost lurched from the podium and seemed to do a little dance at other points. There was no question he was into the music.

As were we all.