The Madison Symphony Orchestra was thrilled to welcome pianist, Terrence Wilson, to Overture Hall for our Sept 22, 23 and 24 concerts of American Rhapsody. Read reviews from the concert weekend, hear what the audience had to say, and view pictures below!

Madison Symphony Orchestra gets standing ovation for season debut
Noah Fellinger // The Cap Times

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s first show of the 2023-’24 symphony season, “American Rhapsody”, is a love letter to some of the most renowned composers in the U.S. musical canon as well as the beginning to an ongoing farewell from Music Director John DeMain.

As the MSO recently announced, DeMain will end his now thirty-year-long tenure in the position following the conclusion of the orchestra’s 2025-’26 centennial season.

Upon taking to the stage Friday night, DeMain opened “American Rhapsody” with Aaron Copland’s seminal work of Americana “Appalachian Spring.”

“Appalachian Spring,” a Pulitzer-winning ballet, draws inspiration from a combination of folk music and early American church hymns. Upon its premiere in 1944, the piece came to define the sound of America, and it’s not difficult to see why. “Appalachian Spring” opens with a soft, hesitant stirring of woodwinds which evokes the gentle awakening of rolling hills and dewy meadows. The music then rushes to life at the urging of the strings, and so begins a vibrant pastoral dance between conductor and orchestra.

The MSO outdid themselves with their performance of the all-American ballet, lending a clear dynamism to the piece which cannot be captured in recording. The orchestra accentuated the contrast between the music’s full-bodied, texture-rich harmonies with steep decrescendos which reduced the music to an enchanting whisper.

Read the full review on The Cap Times’ website

The Beginning of the End of an Era
Bill Wineke // Madison Independent Arts Review

The Madison Symphony Orchestra opened its season Friday with an all-American concert and a tribute to conductor John DeMain as he begins his 30th season in Madison.

DeMain, 79, announced earlier this week that he will retire in 2025 as the MSO observes its 100th anniversary.

So, this isn’t the end of an era, but it is the beginning of an end. During the past three decades DeMain has taken a pretty good community orchestra and transformed it into a regional blessing, helping it move first to the next level and, then, succeeding levels of quality.

He calls this weekend’s performances “American Rhapsody.” The program features pianist Terrence Wilson, who turned in an excellent performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Also on the playlist are Aaron Copland’s “Suite From Appalachian Spring,” John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” and Howard Hanson’s “Romantic Symphony.”

The Adams piece is part of the composer’s opera, “Nixon in China.” DeMain conducted the premiere performance of the opera in 1987, when he was music director of the Houston Grand Opera.

So, it’s kind of a consequential beginning to this year’s symphonic season.

What struck me most, however, was the beginning rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The MSO, like many symphonies, traditionally opens its season with the National Anthem. But this year, when you can rarely watch a news program without hearing worries about coups, insurrections and angry politicians, it was moving to see the flag on stage and sing “O’re the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.”

The song was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 during the War of 1812 and, though it sounds corny, it is comforting to be reminded that this country has been through trials before.

But, back to the music.

Wilson’s performance in “Rhapsody in Blue” differs from most visiting artist roles.

We’re used to the artist dominating the concert hall while the orchestra pretty much plays accompaniment.

Gershwin’s music isn’t like that and Wilson’s rendition isn’t like that at all.

For one thing, there’s a lot going on in the Rhapsody. The brass section is dominant one minute, the clarinets the next.

One benefit of seeing the piece on stage is that the audience can see the percussion sections scurrying around to pick up differing instruments.

And how often do you see a banjo featured in a symphonic performance?

Steve Roberts and his MSO banjo were seated right next to the harp.

The whole evening was a good beginning to the end of an era.


Hear what the audience had to say…​

“The performance of Rhapsody in Blue. It is not a favorite of mine, but Terrence Wilson, John Demain and the MSO breathed new life into it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also the cello tribute to Laurie Riss was moving.”

“It was perfectly wonderful. The setting, the sound, everything was done so well, totally professional and polished.”

“I have never heard Rhapsody in Blue played with such brilliance! And not just the pianist! The orchestra, especially the solos and emphasized sections were way beyond any expectation. I was on my feet a split second after the last chord! I actually looked up Terrence Wilson when I got home and heard more of his work via YouTube. Thanks for the introduction to this incredible talent.”

“Loved the principal clarinetist! This concert really let him shine! Loved his and the orchestra’s interpretation of Rhapsody in Blue – it made a well-known piece fresh and fun. Terrence Wilson was also wonderful! The Chairman Dances was very interesting and unusual. Having enjoyed Philip Glass in the past, it was nice to hear another piece in the same genre.”

“All the pieces were performed beautifully. I had never heard any of them live. And they will never be the same in a recording again. Kudos to the orchestra for a splendid performance.”

“It was a wonderful combination of familiar and unfamiliar pieces. I appreciated the opportunity to experience pieces I’d not heard before [Adams and Hanson] and still thoroughly enjoy much loved selections [Copeland and Gershwin]. Terrence Wilson was wonderful. I’ve never heard Rhapsody in Blue played with more feeling.”

“Terrence Wilson certainly lived up to the hype. His performance was definitely the highlight. Such control of the dynamics and rhythms of the Rhapsody. Unexpected little syncopations that caught me off guard. Thrilling.”