Now in his 19th season as Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Grammy and Tony Award winning conductor John DeMain is noted for his dynamic performances on concert and opera stages throughout the world.
“A gifted orchestra builder,” according to The New York Times, DeMain has built the MSO into one of America’s leading regional orchestras. In addition to overseeing its move into the magnificent Overture Hall and expanding the subscription season to triple performances, he has steadily elevated the quality of the orchestra, creating exquisite performances of ever more challenging and virtuosic works. “…It was tempting,” said The New York Times, “to compare this regional orchestra with a major international ensemble…the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.”
DeMain’s active conducting schedule has taken him to the stages of the National Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the symphonies of Seattle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Houston, San Antonio, and Jacksonville, along with the Pacific Symphony, Boston Pops, Aspen Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestra of Seville and the Leipzig MDR Sinfonieorchester. In 2007 he donated a critically acclaimed performance to Costa Rica’s Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional to benefit their National Institute of Music. He has also been a regular conductor with Mexico’s Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and National Opera of Mexico in Mexico City.
DeMain also serves as Artistic Director for Madison Opera and, until recently, for Opera Pacific, where he led an unprecedented seven-company co-production of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking in 2002. He has been a regular guest conductor with Washington National Opera, New York City Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera.
During the 2012-2013 season DeMain conducts Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera and Handel’s Acis and Galatea, returns to Washington National Opera and will conduct the gala final concert for San Francisco Opera’s renowned Merola Program. Future seasons include returns to Virginia Opera, San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera. DeMain opened Seattle Opera's 2011-2012 season with performances of Porgy & Bess, conducted Verdi's Aida for Virginia Opera, returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago for a highly acclaimed production of Showboat and returned to the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York.
In September 2010 he returned to Portland Opera to conduct Pagliacci & Carmina Burana. In 2009-2010 he led the Canadian premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China with Vancouver Opera as part of the Cultural Olympiad that accompanied the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In 2008-2009 he made his debut with Lyric Opera of Chicago and returned to San Francisco Opera to conduct Porgy and Bess. In 2007-2008 he conducted William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge with Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.
DeMain’s orchestral world premieres include Ned Rorem’s Mallet Concerto, Daniel Catan’s Suite from Florencia en Amazonas, and Joel Hoffman’s The Forty Steps. DeMain was invited by Leonard Bernstein to conduct the world premiere of the composer's last opera, A Quiet Place, and DeMain has since conducted the world premieres of John Adams’ Nixon in China, Carlisle Floyd’s Willie Stark and The Passion of Jonathan Wade, and Sir Michael Tippet’s New Year. He also conducted the American premiere of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten, an operatic treatment of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, and the world premiere of Glass’ The Making of the Representative of Planet Eight, based on the book by Doris Lessing.
During his distinguished 17-year tenure with Houston Grand Opera, in addition to conducting a wide spectrum of the standard operatic repertoire, DeMain led a history-making production of Porgy and Bess, winning a Grammy Award, Tony Award and France’s Grand Prix du Disque for the RCA recording. In all, he has conducted more than 350 performances of Porgy and Bess throughout the world, including performances at La Scala di Milano, Paris Opera (Bastille) and for Japan Arts in Tokyo. His critically acclaimed New York City Opera production of the opera was televised on National Public Television’s acclaimed Live from Lincoln Center series and garnered an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Classical Music & Dance Program.”
Live from Lincoln Center also presented DeMain’s productions of An American Christmas with James Earl Jones, Floyd’s Willie Stark, Joplin’s Treemonisha, Adams’ Nixon in China and Plácido Domingo & Friends. DeMain’s contributions to the series were celebrated in its 2006 30th Anniversary Broadcast, which featured excerpts of his New York City Opera Porgy and Bess performance and of “No Puede ser” with the legendary tenor Plácido Domingo. DeMain has worked extensively with Domingo in concerts throughout the world, most notably in the celebrated 1992 Concert for the Planet Earth from Rio de Janeiro.
DeMain began his career as a pianist and conductor in his native Youngstown, Ohio. After winning the Youngstown Symphony’s piano competition at age 18, he went on to earn his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the Juilliard School in New York City. He made a highly acclaimed debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and was the second recipient of the Julius Rudel Award at New York City Opera. He was also one of the first six conductors to receive the Exxon/National Endowment for the Arts Conductor Fellowship—for his work with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
DeMain holds honorary degrees from the University of Nebraska and Edgewood College. He was recently named a Fellow by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. He resides in Madison with his wife Barbara; their daughter Jennifer is currently a student at the UW-Madison.