March 1, 2019

Cellist Thomas Mesa Joins Madison Symphony Orchestra Principal Organist Greg Zelek for the 2018-2019 Overture Concert Organ Season Finale

Tuesday, April 16 in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m.

Madison, Wis.Principal Organist and Curator of the Overture Concert Organ, Greg Zelek, returns to Overture Hall to team up with Thomas Mesa, who Zelek identifies as “one of the most charismatic performers of his generation” through a “tremendous virtuosity.” Together, they create a performance that displays both musicians’ talents on their respective instruments.

Greg Zelek previews the performance. “Cuban-American cellist, Thomas Mesa, has quickly established himself as one of the most charismatic performers of his generation. He joins me in a concert of arrangements of music for cello and organ, including Tchaikovsky’s flashy Pezzo Capriccioso, that will demonstrate Thomas’ tremendous virtuosity, as well as the versatility of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s great Overture Concert Organ.”

First, a performance which offers 7 Variations from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” an adaptation by Beethoven. Afterwards, Debussy’s Beau Soir leads the concert succession, followed by Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 “Fiddle” Fugue in D minor, BWV 539, Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso, Op. 62, Widor’s Toccata from Symphony for Organ, No. 5, Op, 42, Schubert’s Serenade, and Haydn’s Cello Concerto No., 1 in C major.

Originally written for the piano and cello, Zelek offers innovation in substituting for the organ as part of Beethoven’s 7 Variations from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Variations arise from the operatic theme entitled “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” translating to “In Men Who Know the Feeling of Love.” The result is a jovial one, as the organ and cello embody the call-and-response styles of “The Magic Flute’s” compositions, and enliven the concert with a vivid — if somewhat minimalist — recreation.

Debussy, a highly influential classical pianist, inadvertently aided in pioneering the concept of musical impressionism in the early-20th century. Composed in the late-19th century, Beau Soir finds itself just beyond the end of the Romantic era.

The Prelude from Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 “Fiddle” Fugue in D minor, BWV 539 by Bach lends itself to the talent of the cellist. BWV 1008 is a two-part prelude, featuring firstly a conventional, melodic theme that is countered by its second half, a cadenza designed around the use of scales. BWV 539, however, is far more somber, featuring both a funeral-esque prelude and an intense, highly technical fugu. In an ascension from grim tonalities, BWV 539 concludes with a final euphony.

In August, 1887, Tchaikovsky composed Pezzo capriccioso in roughly the span of one week; originally for the cello and orchestra. Lasting approximately seven minutes, it was dedicated to Russian cellist Anatoliy Brandukov by the composer himself. Its creation follows Nikolay Kondratyev’s — a friend of Tchaikovsky’s — unsuccessful battle with syphilis. After collaboration with Brandukov about the piece, the duo traveled to Paris to perform much in the same manner Zelek and Mesa do: the solo cellist accompanied with the keyboard.

The final movement in a roughly 35-minute composition, Toccata from Symphony for Organ, No. 5, Op. 42 was penned by French organist Charles-Marie Widow in the early-1880s. It is the most famous excerpt from the work, finding itself in frequent use at traditional gatherings such as weddings and during the holidays. The movement ascends from its original F major in fifths at a consistent interval of one bar each. Among these key changes, the organist performs an impressive display of staccato arpeggios, which counter a bassline that matches these key changes in the opposite direction. Since the mid-20th century, Toccata has been performed at numerous royal weddings in both Britain and Scandinavia.

Serenade by Schubert was written in 1826, arranged for piano and violin. Like Debussy, Schubert’s pleasing melody creates a quasi-impressionist atmosphere of levity, pleasantry, and harmonic euphony. Kreissle von Hellborn, the biographer of Schubert’s life, depicts the inception of the work with an excellent anecdote: “One Sunday, during the summer of 1826, Schubert with several friends was returning from Potzleinsdorf to the city, and on strolling along through Wahring, he saw his friend Tieze sitting at a table in the garden of the ‘Zum Biersack.’ The whole party determined on a halt in their journey. Tieze had a book lying open before him, and Schubert soon began to turn over the leaves. Suddenly he stopped, and pointing to a poem, exclaimed, ‘such a delicious melody has just come into my head, if I but had a sheet of music paper with me.’ Herr Doppler drew a few music lines on the back of a bill of fare, and in the midst of a genuine Sunday hubbub, with fiddlers, skittle players, and waiters running about in different directions with orders, Schubert wrote that lovely song.”

Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major was composed by Haydn sometime around the early-1760s. It was a gift for cellist Joseph Weigl in Haydn’s own orchestra under the reign of Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy of Hungary.

The concerto is a triplet structure, beginning with a Moderato, moving to an Adagio, and finishing the selection with an Allegro molto. From the 18th-century until 1961, the composition was impossible to find; that is, until a castle in Bohemia had contents shipped to Prague’s National Museum where it was discovered after nearly 300 years.

About Thomas Mesa

Thomas Mesa, Cuban-American cellist, is the winner of the 2017 Astral Artists Auditions and the 2016 Sphinx Competition. He has performed in a wide variety of solo engagements across the United States including with The Cleveland Orchestra and the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl as well as at the Mainly Mozart Festival, Carnegie Hall, The Supreme Court of the United States, and at the International Beethoven Project.

As an enthusiastic interpreter of music for choir and cello, Mr. Mesa was one of the featured instrumentalists on The Crossing Choir’s album called “Bonhoeffer” that was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017. As a chamber musician, Mr. Mesa has toured with Itzhak Perlman both nationally and internationally and is a member of St. Petersburg Piano Quartet who are in high demand for the most important series in America.

Mr. Mesa received his bachelor’s degree from the Juilliard School and his master’s degree from Northwestern University where he was the recipient of the Richard and Helen Thomas Fellowship and Graduate Program Honors for extraordinary contributions to the String Department. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.

About Greg Zelek

Praised for his “effortless facility on the instrument” (South Florida Classical Review), Greg Zelek is increasingly recognized as one of the most exciting young organists in the American organ scene. Greg has been the Principal Organist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Curator of the Overture Concert Organ Season since September 2017. Greg holds the Wayne Curtis & Maybelle Slavens Hall and Francis Vincent & Lettie von Kalweit Dunnebacke Curatorship, which is endowed by anonymous friends of the Symphony.

In addition to concertizing throughout the United States and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Greg regularly performs with orchestras as both a soloist and professional ensemble member. In 2017, he performed with the Florida Orchestra and was the featured guest soloist with the Ridgewood Symphony in 2016. Greg was the organist in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2014 production of Faust. He also performed twice that year with the New World Symphony, including in a performance of Lukas Foss’s Phorion under Michael Tilson Thomas. In 2012, Greg played Strauss’s Alpine Symphony with the MET Orchestra in Carnegie Hall conducted by Semyon Bychkov and performed Poulenc’s Organ Concerto with the Miami Symphony Orchestra in 2011.

A recipient of the inaugural Kovner Fellowship, Greg received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as an Artist Diploma, from the Juilliard School. A native of Miami, Florida, Greg was most recently the Music Director and Organist at the Episcopal Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy in New York City. Greg, who is Cuban-American and a native Spanish speaker, became the Music Director and Organist of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Miami at age 15, and has served as the summer organist for San Pedro Apostol Church in Ramales de la Victoria, Spain.

Concert, Ticket and Event Details

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to the performance.

  • Single Tickets are available for $20 each and can be purchased online at
    http://madisonsymphony.org/zelecmesa, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
  • Student rush tickets for organ performances can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two tickets for $10 each. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.


The Overture Concert Organ is owned by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts. It is programmed and curated by MSO Principal Organist, Greg Zelek. In addition to the Overture Concert Organ Season, the organ is featured in a variety of free events, such as the community Carol and Hymn Sings. Discover more: https://madisonsymphony.org/about/mission-history/

The 18-19 Organ Performance Season is composed by Greg Zelek, featuring guest musicians on both the Overture Concert Organ and accompanying instruments. This season, esteemed organists and guests alike convey power and emotion through the impressive Klais Organ, providing a venue for one of the most significant and recently-commissioned organ installations in the country. Discover more about the 18-19 season: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/overture-concert-organ-performances

This performance is sponsored by William Steffenhagen. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is  provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ.


The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 93rd season in 2018–2019 and its 25th season under the leadership of Music Director John DeMain. The MSO has grown to be one of America’s leading regional orchestras, providing Madison and south-central Wisconsin with cultural and educational opportunities to interact with great masterworks and top-tier guest artists from around the world. Find more information at madisonsymphony.org

Peter Rodgers, Director of Marketing
Phone: (608) 257-3734 x226
Email: prodgers@madisonsymphony.org
Web: madisonsymphony.org
Photos available upon request.

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