Thank you to Lindsay Christians for writing a great piece about our 2022-2023 season and the announcement of our new Executive Director, Robert Reed. Read about our new season and get to know the newest member of the MSO team.

You can view Lindsay’s story on the Cap Times website or read the story below.


MSO announces 22-23 season; meet new symphony director Robert Reed

By Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times, April 6, 2022

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2022-23 season, with subscriptions going on sale today.

Concerts are set to include returning favorites like twin pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” a performance of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto by Yefim Bronfman and, after a years-long delay, Beethoven’s ninth symphony. (See the full schedule here.)

The season begins Sept. 23 with that big, celebratory Beethoven choral symphony, originally set for spring 2020. The season will be maestro John DeMain’s 29th and the first for new executive director Robert A. Reed, who moves from Plano, Texas next month to lead the symphony. Rick Mackie retired in July 2021 after 22 years.

“I did not know Madison prior to my interview here, I just knew of the city by name,” said Reed, who arrives with more than 32 years of experience orchestra and cultural arts management at symphonies in San Francisco, Buffalo, New York, Nashville, Louisville and Corpus Christi. He has roots in Louisville, Kentucky and considers himself a Midwesterner.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra is set to perform again this weekend, in a program featuring concertmaster Naha Greenholtz performing Haydn’s Violin Concerto in G major and Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.” Look for Matt Ambrosio’s review of the performance at on Saturday morning.

Earlier this week, Reed spoke with the Cap Times from his home in Plano about pandemic resets, diversifying the symphony’s programming and what classical music can learn from Madonna.

The past couple years have been tough for the arts. Do you have any reflections on leading an orchestra as it comes out of a pandemic?

The pandemic has given every organization a chance to do a reset. If you don’t learn from the pandemic, you’re going to be really behind. We have to learn from how people have missed that connection, the in-person experience, and try to build on that.

It’s easy for any group to get into a rhythm, and whether you like it or not, you just keep doing it year after year. Now there’s this reset button: What do you really want to be? What do you really need to do? What can you improve upon?

I’m looking forward to doing some analysis of that, and to bring about some positive changes so the organization can even be more important and relevant to the community.

To expand their reach, some orchestras add pops concerts, collaborate on live film scores and add educational programs. Are you interested in more of that kind of thing?

Absolutely. I’m interested in trying to create a more diverse set of programs. Great music is great music. The Madison Symphony, in my opinion, could be a little bit more versatile.

If you did the music of John Williams, you have a whole repertoire of music, but there are so many other great film composers. There are definitely concerts to look into that could be good for the Madison community that show the orchestra in a different light.

Hopefully it will get some people in who may not necessarily be coming, because in reality, not every single person is going to like every single genre of music.

Outside of Concerts on the Square, we don’t have a lot of pops here.

It seems that Madison has conditioned itself to be a classical city. Look at the (Wisconsin) Chamber Orchestra, look at the symphony, they pretty much do classical programs.

So I do think there is some opportunity that’s there, but I think it also has to be the right thing. We want it to be a good quality show.

We have to take the pulse of the audience to see what it can handle, what it would like. I do think that there is opportunity to look at, over the upcoming years, varieties of programs.

We’d still have the same quality of performance, so that (the musicians) feel proud of what we’re doing, and we’re doing what our mission says that we’re supposed to do.

But at the same time, we’re doing some things to bring in more people, so we’re not just doing the same thing for the same people. We want to just make this simply as important as it can be.

With seven classical (non-Christmas) concerts per year and touring artists’ schedules to deal with, it can be hard to balance programming needs. How will you work with Maestro DeMain on adding more diversity to those programs?

If we were an organization like the Chicago Symphony doing 30 or so programs a year, you have a lot more opportunity to do that. When you’re doing eight programs a year, as amazing programs as they may be, you have less opportunity. Everything that you program, you have to think about how it fits into the big picture.

So looking at the program next year, you have the last subscription concert — everybody knows “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff but they may not know Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3, which is by a prominent African American composer.

You want to bring in some of the young, great artists … you don’t want to bring back the same people over and over, because people get bored of the same thing.

One thing that can be explored is not just looking at the actual concert. What can you do around the concert? Maybe there’s a symposium that can be done. Maybe you do a festival, like women in music. You make it more of an event. If you learn how to tie it all together, it could be a lot more meaningful than just doing the program.

Would you like to add a concert weekend?

I’d like to add an additional concert, but not necessarily all classical. There is a possibility there.

The organization is getting a large number of people attending the concerts, which is great. You have to look at the dollars and cents, but hopefully there will be an opportunity to do a few more things, and I think not just Overture Center things. Maybe the symphony is performing in the (Wisconsin) Dells or some other location.

Overture Center is an amazing facility. But one thing I’m sensitive of is not everybody is going to relate to the Overture Center.

Our existing patrons love it, but the people we’re trying to get to become familiar with us may not necessarily feel that safe connection. Sometimes you have to go to them, whether that’s digitally or physically.

Leaders of arts organizations tend to stay in Madison for a very long time. How will you approach the challenges of “this is how we’ve always done it?”

Whenever you change leadership, there’s going to be changes, and it is my responsibility to help navigate that. You’re dealing with staff members, with board members, the community, with donors who were accustomed to a certain way. I need to navigate that and still be true to who I am and what I wish to bring to the organization, so that it seems seamless.

I tell people all the time, if organizations don’t evolve, they will eventually die. Look at pop stars — pop stars would never have a long career if they were not constantly evolving themselves. Early Madonna was a certain way, middle Madonna was a certain way, Madonna currently is a different way. They are constantly having to evolve. Symphonies are not any different.

Even 30 years ago, when people would come to the symphony, it was a lot different than it is today. It’s our responsibility as organizations to make sure that we’re being really relevant for the community and also inclusive of the entire community.

How can we make sure that we’re representing the entire Madison community, and not just representing a niche? So everyone feels like the Madison Symphony is for them?

What instruments do you play?

I play clarinet. Both of my degrees (at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music) are in clarinet performance. I only like to play now just for fun. My job keeps me incredibly busy, and I was a person that, if I can’t maintain a certain level … I did not want to have to do all the work that requires to maintain a certain level, because I just don’t have the time.

So I will never accept a job now. But I will get my clarinet out occasionally, just for fun, for me, because I need it for my soul satisfaction.