Beginning with caroling in the lobby, and the entire audience singing Christmas carols together for the finale, this beloved annual Madison tradition brought the holiday season to a glorious start! A Madison Symphony Christmas featured mezzo-soprano, Adriana Zabala, baritone, Nathaniel Stampley, the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir, and the Madison Youth Choirs. Read the reviews and view photos from the weekend to find out what made this festive concert so memorable!


Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “MSO Christmas Concert is best ever”

I realize this is a subjective judgment, but that judgment is that this year’s Madison Symphony Orchestra Christmas concerts are the best the MSO has ever offered.

I haven’t attended every one in the organization’s 97-year history, but I’ve been in the audience for each one that John DeMain has conducted in his 29-year tenure as music director – and a few before that.

This year is the best. I think that may be because it seems the most joyful.

Covid may not be over, but we’re no longer living in terror. The Overture Center no longer checks our vaccination status at the door. Masks are optional. As is the custom in Madison, dress varied from elegant green capes to denim short-shorts. Everyone just seems to be having a good time.

It’s not that everything was perfect at Friday night’s opening performance.

DeMain introduced Mezzo-Soprano Adriana Zabala one song before she was actually due on stage.

And during the Christmas singalong that traditionally ends the Christmas concert, a good part of the audience sang the fourth verse of “Joy to the World” rather than the second verse (“He rules the world with truth and grace” rather than “Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns”). Actually, I’m pretty sure Zabala did that, too, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

It’s not that everything was perfect; it’s that everything worked.

Zabala is an incredible singer who was able to transform from an opera diva in “Gesu Bambino” to a Broadway star in “My Favorite Things.”

Nathaniel Stampli, baritone, actually is a Broadway star and when he sang “How Great Thou Art” it quickly became evident that the familiar hymn ought to be sung at every Christmas concert.

Leotha Stanley and his Mount Zion Gospel Choir are making their 17th appearance with the MSO Christmas concert and the choir sang two of his compositions, “The Spirit of Christmas is Love” and “Christmas Bells: The Message they Ring.”

Add in the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and an instrumental piece, Bach’s “Adagio for Oboe and Violin” with violinist and concertmaster Zuzanne Beia and oboist Izumi Amemiya and you’ve got just a great concert.

Read the full review


Abigail Leavins​ / Capital Times: “Madison Symphony Christmas returns in full force”

At the Madison Symphony Christmas concert, the third song of the second half began with the Madison Youth Choir singing “Come Thou Fount” a cappella. Then the strings played for a moment.

Next, the men of both the Madison Youth Choir and Madison Symphony Chorus joined in song and the women and wind instruments eventually joined the fray. The instruments slowly started to build. Then all voices and instruments joined together to finish the famous hymn.

The power in the room Friday night was clear from not only this song, but from the sheer amount of people on stage.

For the first time in three years, the Madison Symphony Christmas came back to the Overture Center in full force. They began their production with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the Madison Youth Choir processed down the aisles.

Maestro John DeMain, characteristically, started off the show with his jokes and forgot who he was introducing. “This is the part where we go into overtime,” DeMain said.

He did correctly introduce soloist Adriana Zabala. Zabala is an opera singer, acclaimed for her performances throughout the country and outside of it.

Zabala is of Cuban heritage, and DeMain asked her to pick out a Spanish song for the symphony. She picked two and began with one that meant a lot to her.

She chose the song “Los peces en el rio,” a traditional Spanish “Villancico,” which she learned in grade school in Caracas.

“It captured my imagination when I was 7 or 8,” Zabala said.

The title of the song in English means “the fish in the water.” Zabala said the song is a mysterious turn on the story of Mary as the mother of Jesus. The song depicts Mary doing mundane things, but the refrain switches to a description of life underneath the water, where there is excitement for the extraordinary life Mary carries.

Zabala said this song means a lot to her because it reminds her that there is always something extraordinary underneath the mundaneness of life, regardless of one’s belief.

Read the full review

Hear what the audience had to say…

Such a delightful and wonderful way to initiate the holiday season!

All of the music was terrific, and the two vocal soloists were the most outstanding.

A nice joyful celebration, initiating a spark of happiness and positive feelings about the upcoming holiday. Music has such strong emotional impact, and the pieces performed brought lots of warm memories of Christmases past. Thank you.

This was the best christmas concert I have experienced in the past 10 years. The smaller format for the Mt Zion choir was much better. The selection of pieces in the first half was good with the duet, by the two guest performers, was really beautiful. Kudos for the person who did the arrangement of that song.

The vocal solos by Ms Zabala were quite stunning. Her voice was rich and strong and pitch-perfect. A joy to hear.

Nathaniel Stampley was perfect for the music and a local guy besides. We need to invite him back again!

The Christmas concert is always our favorite. This year I thought the soloists were particularly good, and Adriana as a mezzo-soprano, blended particularly will with Nathaniel’s voice.

Hard to say the most compelling: the Christmas spirit, getting together with friends (attending this concert is an annual affair) the music, seeing the guest singers, hearing the beautiful music–I could go on and on!

I loved the singing before the concert started. It felt like a community. I loved all aspects of the concert!

The joy and talent of all the performers. I did not know of either of the soloists prior to attending but was blown away by their talent.

This was your best Christmas concert I’ve attended and I think I’ve attended around 15. Nathaniel Stampley was wonderful. His voice and demeanor and smile all radiated the Christmas spirit.

All MSO Christmas concerts are great but this might have topped them all- there was a wonderful balance of holiday meaning and playfulness.

Messiah’s Hallelujah piece has always been my favorite part of the Christmas concert but How Great Thou Art was exceptional

Loved the variety of pieces, especially this year. Great way to introduce the new oboist. The soloists were outstanding. Loved that some of the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir members were placed in front of the orchestra. Thought it was probably the best Christmas concert with MSO that we have attended.

This for me was THE best holiday concert! Every year is fantastic, but I feel this year’s selections were the BEST! Thank you for a truly memorable experience!

I have attended several times but this was the best ever!! The musical selections, performers and, of course, the wonderful John DeMain, made it a perfect night!

The Christmas caroling before the show was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. This was my first visit to the Madison Symphony Orchestra. My husband and I are considering moving to the area. We wanted to experience the Orchestra in order to help us decide if Madison was a good fit for us or not. We love the orchestra and cultural events. The event was wonderful and helped us make our decision to make the Madison area our home soon.

Enjoyed the soprano’s Spanish carol very much. Always love the kid choirs, so earnest!

The coordination of such large groups of musicians & singers is staggering. That always fascinates me!

The first piece, the chant, was evocative, dramatic and beautiful. The choirs we’re all wonderful, and the pre concert carol singing was superb.

The music was fantastic, sound system superb, soloists dynamic, and the atmosphere warm and friendly.