The Madison Symphony Orchestra let the audience decide and the winner was Dvorak’s New World Symphony! Read reviews below, see photos, and more!


MSO plays ‘Choose Your Own Symphony” with Overture Hall audience

Matt Ambrosio, Special to the Cap Times

For this weekend’s concerts, the Madison Symphony Orchestra tried something new. It let their audience vote on which canonical masterwork the ensemble would feature, and the people chose Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

Perhaps it was an obvious choice. The New World Symphony is one of the most popular pieces in the western classical canon. And for good reason. Its many songful melodies, smooth harmonic progressions, and various orchestral textures were balanced wonderfully on Friday night, and the MSO’s performance breathed rejuvenated energy into the somewhat overplayed masterwork. The MSO plays again Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Written in 1893 while Dvorak was living for a short while in America, the piece was strongly influenced by the African American spiritual and Native American music to which the composer had been exposed. Yet, as the composer explained, the piece does “not actually use any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the [Native American music], and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour.”

After a mostly subdued first act, John DeMain came to life for the New World Symphony, and the MSO matched, if not exceeded, his energy. The orchestra stayed tight through some of the more difficult rhythmic passages, blended wonderfully despite the variety of orchestral texture, and, save the onset of the very first chord of the second movement, locked in harmonically. Their performance was polished and moving, and I left the theater with a smile on my face and a little skip in my step.

Read the full review on The Cap Times’ website


MSO Cellist OMG!
Bill Wineke // Madison Independent Arts Review

Madison Symphony Orchestra marketing director usually attends symphony rehearsals and, after listing to cellist Steven Isserlis rehearse Dmitri Kabelevsky’s “Concerto No. 2 in e minor for Cello and Orchestra” he walked out of the hall thinking, “Oh, my God!”

That’s pretty much the reaction the audience at Friday night’s concert had, too.

Isserlis, a British musician who was awarded the Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, does things with a cello that few mere mortals could emulate.

His music ranges from plucking a couple of strings to suggesting an entire orchestra playing one instrument. It’s really pretty amazing.

Of course it probably doesn’t hurt that the cello in question is a Stradivarius created in 1726.

Nor does it hurt, probably, that Isserlis is a great showman who sprouts an enormous head of curly white hair which bounces around as he plays and gives him a similarity to an enthusiastic English sheepdog.

He does make complicated music fun and the Friday audience loved it. The concerts will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Also on the program is an eight-minute piece called “Loco” composed in 2004 by Jennifer Higdon that is supposed to suggest a rail journey and Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” symphony.

The “Loco” and the Kabelevsky concerto are new to Madison. The “New World” has previously been performed by the MSO in 1930, 1935, 1975, 1994, 2005,2014 and 2017.

It is probably best known for its second movement that includes the music for “Going Home,” which, in 1934, also served as the basis for a popular song “Wagon Wheels.”

The orchestra was in its typical good form Friday and the trombone and percussion sections were especially hard worked. Emma Potter began her new position as principal horn player and did a nice job.


Hear what the audience had to say…

“I thought the Kabalevsky Cello Concerto was very moving and Isserlis’ performance of it was superb. I also thought the MSO sounded spectacular in Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It’s one that I’ve heard many times both in person and in recordings. I thought this performance brought out all the reasons why it’s an orchestral miracle.”
“The New World Symphony performance was spectacular. The cello concerto, and the cellist ( and his encore) were compelling. And I liked the more contemporary “Loco” as a bold opener was great as well. What a combination in one evening!”
“I loved being exposed to the first 2 pieces. They were both wonderful! I smiled the whole time listening to the first piece. The Russian composer did classical with a modern twist which I enjoyed and the cellist was amazing. I love that conductor DeMain continually choses interesting music. I have only been going to the symphony for a few years and like the experience more and more.”
“I enjoyed hearing two pieces that were new to me, especially one by a contemporary woman composer. I appreciated the artistry of Steven Isserlis. I thought the orchestra was in top form.”
“Simply live, marvelous classical music played by a great orchestra and led by a fine conductor.”