The Madison Symphony Orchestra was thrilled to welcome James Ehnes back to Overture Hall for our October 14, 15, & 16 concerts, Sublime Violin & Journeys. This was his fourth performance with the MSO. Read reviews from the concert weekend, hear what the audience had to say, and view pictures below!

Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “Wineke: Madison Symphony is More Than Music”

There are things about the Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts that make me happy but don’t directly involve listening to music.

For example: At the opening of Friday night’s concert, Conductor John DeMain came on stage to explain the absence of General Manager Ann Bowen from last month’s opening concert.

Bowen is a fixture of the concerts. She brings DeMain’s music to the podium before anything else happens.

The thing is, DeMain explained, that’s not her job. Technically is was the job of Kathryn Taylor, the MSO librarian. But Taylor also plays violin in the symphony, so she can’t do it.

So, for the past 25 years, Bowen has been carrying the music, sometimes receiving her own ovation as she does so.

Now, Taylor has retired, though she continues to play in the symphony, and DeMain used the occasion to bring Bowen out on stage to receive her own applause.

I just do not see that happening in New York City.

Another thing that makes me happy is whenever Randall Swiggum delivers the pre-symphony lecture. He is accustomed to explaining music to kids and, by the time he finishes his half-hour discussion, I usually feel that I half-understand the music I soon will be writing about.

Ah, yes, the music.

It was a great concert. Violinist James Ehnes is making his fourth appearance with the MSO (Previously in 2012, 2015 and 2019) and he played Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” with the sophistication that explains why he was invited back for a fourth time.

Ehnes plays a Stradivarius violin built in 1715. For comparative reference, George Washington was born in 1732 and Benjamin Franklin was nine years old when Stradivarius built the violin.

Ehnes, elegant in white tie and tails, elicits the best from that noble instrument and the audience loved it.

Speaking of the audience, it is apparent that the day of face masks is over. The Overture Center no longer requires them. At the September concert about half the audience wore masks. Friday, only a handful of people did.

Also on the program – which is repeated tonight at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 – was Richard Strauss’s “Death and Transfiguration” a piece, no surprise, that symbolizes a man’s dying and release from physical suffering, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony.

Swiggum had explained to us that the entire program was dead serious without any levity and, I guess, that was true. But the quality of the music was such that the entire program seemed over in no time.

Read the review on Channel 3000’s website


Matt Ambrosio / Cap Times: “Violinist James Ehnes joins symphony for an impressive performance”

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s second concert of the season, “Sublime Violin and Journeys,” featured works from three of the greatest composers in the western classical canon as well as virtuoso violinist James Ehnes, who wows the Madison audience every time he visits.

The MSO will perform with Ehnes twice more this weekend, on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

On Friday, maestro John DeMain began the concert with a clarification: at the MSO’s season opener last month, many people noticed that MSO general manager Ann Bowen did not place the score on the conductor’s stand as she has for 25 years. This is typically a job for a librarian — but MSO librarian Kathy Taylor is a violinist in the orchestra, so she couldn’t do it. For the September concert, new librarian Jennifer Goldberg placed the score.

This weekend Bowen returns, keeping with the MSO’s unique custom. DeMain described her as “the heart and soul of this group of musicians.” Madison audiences are nothing if not loyal — and observant.

The first piece on the program, “Death and Transfiguration,” required careful observation, as well as reading of program notes. Otherwise, DeMain said, “you won’t know why the trombone interrupts the orchestra!”

In many ways, this piece played to the MSO’s strengths. It demanded intricate woodwind textures, lush orchestral colors, brash brassy sonorities and several climactic swells, all of which the MSO performed expertly.

Read the review on the Cap Times’s website


What Concert Attendees Had to Say…


“James Ehnes produces such a wonderful, rich sound.​”

“The symphony talk prior to the concert adds so much enjoyment to the selections. The presenter was very well prepared. I’m always so impressed in the depth of knowledge of the presenters. It certainly enhances my enjoyment.”

“Death and Transfiguration was particularly moving, especially after reading the fine notes by J. Michael Allsen. Overall, it was a wonderful, lush concert, expertly programmed, and beautifully performed.”

“I was so surprised by the Barber piece. I’m not familiar with that composer but love works of that time period. It was one of the best things I’ve heard in my years as a subscriber.”

“James Ehnes is always fantastic. It’s a joy to attend his performances.”

“Really glad I came early for Randal Swiggum’s talk. It added a lot to the experience”

“Love the Barber Concerto. Going to the Symphony always seems like such a special occasion.”

“James Ehnes was outstanding! I had never heard him play before and I am so happy I had this opportunity! I was also not very familiar with Mendelssohn and really enjoyed hearing his symphony!”

“DeMain did a fabulous job conducting the Strauss. One of my favorite pieces.”

“The Strauss was rapturous and the guest soloist had virtuosity – a quality experience! Also, the program notes are very informative and well-written.”


Photos from James Ehnes’s 2022 Performances with the MSO