The Madison Symphony Orchestra was thrilled to feature Kyle Knox, Associate Conductor and Naha Greenholtz, Violinist at our Oct 20, 21 and 22 concerts of Monumental Moments. Read reviews from the concert weekend, hear what the audience had to say, and view pictures below!

MSO’s all-star wife and husband team tackle Shostakovich
Matt Ambrosio // The Cap Times

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has made a point to regularly shine the spotlight on some of its own players as soloists but none as frequently as concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. On Friday at Overture Hall, she tackled Dmitri Shostakovich’s formidable Violin Concerto no. 1.

Joining her on stage, Greenholtz’s husband and Associate Conductor of the MSO Kyle Knox led the orchestra from the rostrum, giving Maestro John DeMain the weekend off. Seasoned professionals, the relationship between soloist and conductor only surfaced in subtle ways, such as the efficient nods of readiness Greenholtz gave to Knox to start each movement.

It was a nod that, directed at any other conductor, would have been necessarily more pronounced. Following their bows after the concerto, the spouses shared a hug for a lovely “aww” moment.

Under consultation from violinist and eventual dedicatee David Oistrakh, Shostakovich composed the concerto in 1947 when Soviet cultural policies (Zhdanovshchina) placed restrictions on art and music, and he only unearthed in 1956 after Stalin’s death.

With intimate moments of reflection, lively rhythms, folk-inspired melodies, and flowing lines, the work is a tour de force for soloist and orchestra. In the scherzo movement, those with a keen ear can hear one of the earliest appearances of Shostakovich’s namesake motif (D, E-flat, C, and B, standing for DSCH – the composer’s initials in the German spelling of his name, Dmitri Schostakowitsch).

The cadenza was perhaps the stand-out moment of Friday night’s concert. More so than other cadenzas, this one felt transformative, perhaps because its long length helped the solo violin texture establish a sense of place and stasis rather than being just a fleeting solo moment. As the cadenza progressed, I found myself acutely aware that the solo violin was filling up the entire concert hall, and I was fixated on every last vibration of its strings. Greenholtz’s playing was gripping.

Yet there was more to it, and it had much to do with the MSO’s delicate handling of the piece’s changing rhythmic character. Over the first two movements, an anacrustic melodic figure reigned supreme, with an iambic “weak-strong” rhythmic signature.

This rhythm dissipated in the third movement’s many syncopations, so when the cadenza featured prominently a trochee-like “strong-weak” rhythmic pattern, it felt like a reversal of the first two movements, one that continued into the finale. The cadenza was the crux point for this gradual rhythmic shift, and Greenholtz and the MSO set it up tactfully.

Performing this concerto is no small feat. It is relentless, requiring the soloist to go from a demanding scherzo to a grand and solemn passacaglia to one of the longest cadenzas in Western-classical repertoire and then straight to the finale. A touring soloist may practice this piece over long stretches and then tour it around, playing it over and over. Greenholtz prepared the concerto just for the MSO for this weekend, and the Madison audience showed their gratitude with a standing ovation.

Read the full review on The Cap Times’ website

MSO Offers a “Monumental” Concert
Bill Wineke // Madison Independent Arts Review

A couple of takeaways from Friday’s Madison Symphony Orchestra concert:

First, Naha Greenholtz is a goddess.

Greenholtz, the MSO concertmaster, also is the featured artists for this weekend’s concerts. She was solo violin in Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1,” a difficult piece of modern music that, among other things, had her playing alone for five minutes and required her to be at the top of her game for the other 30 minutes of the concerto.

Then she exchanged her maroon and black evening gown for her customary black ensemble to return to her normal role as first violin in Johannes Brahms’ “Piano Quartet.”

It was a virtuoso performance from a virtuoso performer.

Second takeaway: If you should be attending Saturday or Sunday’s MSO performances, it would be worth your while to arrive early and attend the pre-concert lecture by Kyle Knox, who is the MSO associate conductor, the conductor for this weekend’s performances, and Naha Greenholz’ husband.

The concerts are titled “Monumental Moments” and they feature two works never before performed by the orchestra: The Brahms’ Piano Quartet and dances from Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 ballet, “Fancy Free.”

You don’t really need Knox to explain the Bernstein piece. The composer just brings you right into a New York City neighborhood where he feels comfortable.

But if you hadn’t heard the lecture, you might be a bit puzzled by the Piano Quartet’s lack of piano.

It seems that Arnold Schoenberg was asked to orchestrate the piece about seven decades after Brahms composed it and he felt the piano overwhelmed the string section of the orchestra.

The important thing about all this is that these are three fairly complicated pieces of music and Knox was able to keep the orchestra together with clock like precision.

John DeMain, the MSO music director for 30 years, sat in the audience to enjoy this concert. One thing about DeMain that may not be fully appreciated by many is his ability to attract brilliant young talent to the orchestra. Its roster now include musicians who were playing when I started attending concerts in 1980 and musicians who are younger than my grandson.

That’s kind of a monumental achievement.


Hear what the audience had to say…​

“Actually, seeing Kyle Knox lecturing (pre-performance) and conducting was most compelling. This was my first time seeing him, and I was BLOWN AWAY by the comfort, demeanor and clarity of information during his lecture presentation. And then I was enthralled by the dynamism, fluidity and attention to detail in his conducting. As usual, I was in awe of Naha’s performance, but I can’t wait for the next opportunity to see a performance conducted by Kyle Knox.”

“Naha Greenholtz’s performance was spellbinding. The orchestra was terrific in all three pieces.”

“The performance was electric. The conducting precise and elegant. The orchestra was in top form.”

“All three pieces were performed beautifully. The Shostakovich, both soloist and orchestra were amazing. I particularly loved hearing the Brahms for the first time. I am a musician and teacher and had never heard this Schoenberg orchestration before. I couldn’t imagine a piece that reflects both Brahms and Schoenberg. I loved it. I also applaud programming this piece. MSO is truly a world class orchestra.”

“Most compelling was the Shostokovich Concerto. I generally love the composer and this did not disappoint. Naha’s exquisitely beautiful tone was mesmerizing. But, the last movement of the Brahms had me jumping out of my seat. So exciting.”

“Kyle Knox is an incredible conductor and Naha Greenholtz is a stunning violinist. Together they make magic. JJ Koh also is a superb clarinetist.” 

“Naha was amazing! Kyle had such a command of the orchestra. We are new subscribers this year and this was the first time we attended the preconcert lecture…Kyle is a gifted speaker and was very engaging. We will attend other lectures based on this experience. Also appreciated the hard work of the orchestra and Kyle acknowledging their efforts after each piece was played.”