This story first appeared in the Fall 2022 edition of The Score.

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“Third time’s a charm” proved to be prophetic words for MSOL’s Symphony Gala Planning Committee. After two COVID-related cancellations, the committee was finally able to bring to fruition its plans for a festive evening devoted to a shared enjoyment of classical music. 

On Friday, September 9, 179 music lovers gathered at The Madison Concourse Hotel to celebrate the 97th season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the bestowal of the 2022 John DeMain Award for Outstanding Commitment to Music. Guests were welcomed to the cocktail reception by the vocal harmonies and instrumental skills of The Honey Pies, a local jazz/contemporary music ensemble sponsored by Beth and Peter Rahko. Against that musical backdrop, friends greeted one another with animated conversation and obvious joy at being reunited for this long-awaited event. Emcee Norman Gilliland, of Wisconsin Public Radio fame, then invited guests to the concert part of the evening.  Sponsored by Elaine and Nick Mischler, Ellen Zhou, a Middleton High School senior and winner of the 2022 Bolz Young Artist Competition, dazzled the audience with her virtuosic performance of two movements from Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor. She was followed by the gifted musicians of The Rhapsodie Quartet who, under the sponsorship of Kato Perlman, played selected movements from Dvorák’s String Quartet in G Major and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C Major. Then, as a surprise to the event’s guest of honor Judith Topitzes, the quartet played Scott Joplin’s Solace from a hand-written transcription of the piece penned by Judith’s father, a band and orchestra teacher. 

Moving to the dining room, guests found their places at tables set with emerald green and gold linens and elegant centerpieces featuring orchids as the event’s signature flower, along with gold manzanita branches and glittering crystals. As a special touch, emerald green napkins had been folded to resemble orchids, each adorned with a small white silk orchid. While enjoying a delicious dinner, the guests were entertained by strolling violinist Carol Carlson, sponsored by Carolyn White.    

After that, it was time for The Main Event. Representing Capitol Lakes, executive director Tim Conroy expressed his retirement community’s pride in sponsoring the John DeMain Award for Outstanding Commitment to Music. The Maestro himself then stepped to the microphone and spoke eloquently of Judith Topitzes’s tireless efforts on behalf of Madison’s music community. He lauded her countless contributions as a member and former president of the Madison Symphony Orchestra League and her dedicated service on the Boards of Directors of the Madison Symphony and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. As Judith made her way to the stage, the audience rose as one to applaud her for giving so generously of her time and talent. Gala Committee Co-Chairs Kathryn Belaire and Barbara Berven presented Judith with a beautiful crystal vase, inscribed with her name as the recipient of the 2022 John DeMain Award. Judith was most gracious in accepting her award, thanking her parents for instilling in her a passion for music and gratefully acknowledging the unwavering support she has received from her husband Nick, her family, and her many friends in the music community. 

In the end, the Gala netted over $52,000. It was an evening worth waiting for.   

Barbara Berven,  
Symphony Gala Co-Chair


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