The Madison Symphony Orchestra was back for another Madison Symphony Christmas, featuring various soloists, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choir, and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir. Read reviews from the concert weekend, hear what the audience had to say, and view pictures below!

Madison Symphony Orchestra puts on a very merry Christmas concert
Matt Ambrosio, Special to the Cap Times

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas in Overture Hall.

On Friday night, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s annual tradition, “A Madison Symphony Christmas,” returned in full force. As audience members arrived, carolers from the Madison Symphony Chorus filled the lobby of the hall with Christmas carols.

The hall itself was decked with lights projecting Christmas-themed images on the walls. Two dynamic flying angel statues hung in front of Overture’s organ pipes, all of which set the stage for the spirited musical event.

This year’s Christmas concert, which runs again on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, has something for both the devoted and the casual listener. The first act features several pieces from the western classical canon that are synonymous with Christmas, as well as a few that will surprise and entice even the most devoted classically leaning holiday listener. The second act features lighter fare, with a variety of popular tunes and lighter arrangements.

This year marks John DeMain’s 30th MSO Christmas concert, and the maestro still put together a grand program for a grand event, with a varied repertoire that filled the hall with the holiday spirit, and the ensemble’s playing met to the occasion.

Read the full review on The Cap Times’ website

MSO Christmas Offering Better Than Ever
Bill Wineke // Madison Independent Arts Review

Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain has been staging Christmas gala concerts annually for the 30 years he has led the orchestra and, somehow, manages each year to improve on the others.

That’s hard to do.

Friday night (the concerts will be repeated at 8 tonight and at 2:30 Sunday), the MSO had 500 musicians and singers on stage at one time or another. That included the orchestra, the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir, the Madison Youth Choirs and a piccolo.

Tenor Limmie Pulliam and soprano Evelyn Saavedra provided the power solos. I will leave Pulliam to the end of this review because he is in a class by himself or, at least, in a class with very, very few peers.

The concerts are are always a mix of tradition and innovation. They begin with members of the Madison Youth Choirs, marching down the Overture Hall aisles holding battery-operated candles.

The soloists and the symphony and youth choirs join in “Angels We Have Heard on High,” their voices burning through the auditorium in a way that could convince patrons they had received the money’s worth before the program really began.

Saavedra has a remarkable voice, one that can ring over the combined voices of the chorus and, yet, blend with them in a way that elevates the entire piece of music.

Nineteen years ago, DeMain invited Leotha Stanley to incorporate his Mount Zion Gospel Choir into the annual Christmas concert. This year, he composed two pieces, “Christmas Peace” and “Special Christmas Love,” for the concert. The music got the audience clapping, not necessarily in rhythm with the music, so the result was kind of a staccato accompaniment to the singing.

The Piccolo? Well, that’s another DeMain innovation. He’s spent three decades building a class orchestra so he likes to spotlight his musicians on occasion.

This weekend, Linda Pereksta is featured in Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra.” if your main association with the piccolo is from “Stars and Stripes Forever,” (which mine pretty much is), you will hear a whole new voice for the tiny instrument. Pereksta received a standing ovation and it was well deserved.

And, then, there’s Pulliam, who seems to becoming Madison’s non-resident tenor.

In 2022 he performed at Concert in the Park. A month ago, he sang the role Cavaradossi in the Madison Opera production of “Tosca.”

There are better known tenors in the music world but I am not sure there are better singers.

He blew the roof off, figuratively, from Overture Hall when he sang “O Holy Night” but, honestly most really good tenors can do that with one of the world’s most beloved Christmas carols.

But, a few minutes earlier, when he sang Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” a less known song, he basically transported the entire audience to a higher plane.

And, then, at concert’s end, he joined Mount Zion Gospel singer Rene Robinson in a rollicking gospel rendition of “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

Pulliam comes by that naturally. He says he spends each Christmas Eve at a candlelight religious service in his hometown of Kennett, Missouri, a town of about 10,000. Rock star Sheryl Crow, another Kennett native, also spends her Christmas at the service, Pulliam said.


Hear what the audience had to say…

“The soloists, Ms. Saavedra and Mr. Pulliam. Both were exceptional – he especially so. I have never heard “O Holy Night” sung better. It gave me goose bumps! Another highlight was the piccolo concerto. Who knew there was such a thing? Ms. Pereksta played it masterfully. And of course, there was Mount Zion – superb!”
“Just a great way to kick off the holiday season. Joyous, excellent performances, Maestro Demain looking relaxed. ☺️”
“The festive spirit, wonderful music, great performances all round, and full hall with enthusiastic response all contributed to our enjoyment of the evening. Beverly Taylor was wonderful in the lobby before the concert, drawing people in, including children, and setting the tone for the good cheer and fun that prevailed all evening.”
“The opportunity to hear a variety of Christmas music, both played and sung. I especially liked the chance to sing along with some of the music, especially at the end. This is only the 2nd such concert I’ve attended and I wish I had begun attending this annual concert many years ago.”
“Variety of music, expertise of all of the musicians. We are blessed to have this kind of talent in Madison!”
“I love the little surprises each year to keep it fresh. It’s just a knock out of the park each year! Truly, it’s not Christmas until the symphony…”