“Ax is Back!” concerts next week begin the celebration of 25 years of great music under the leadership of Music Director John DeMain — September 28-30, 2018

Madison, Wis. John DeMain opens his 25th season collaborating with esteemed artist Emanuel Ax to present the dynamic Brahms Second Piano Concerto. The concerts open with Jennifer Higdon’s Fanfare Ritmico, followed by music from the dramatic ballet — Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet — a Suite of John DeMain’s favorites taken from the major movements.

Performances will be held on Friday, September 28th at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 29th at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, September 30th at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, located at 201 State Street.

Jennifer Higdon’s Fanfare Ritmico celebrates the rhythm and speed of life. Written on the eve of the new millennium, the work reflects on the quickening pace of life as time progresses. Higdon herself notes, “our lives now move at speeds much greater than what I believe anyone would have imagined in years past. As we move along day to day, rhythm plays an integral part of our lives—from the individual heartbeat to the lightning speed of our computers. This fanfare celebrates that rhythmic motion, of man and machine, and the energy which permeates every moment of our being in the new century.”

Prokofiev originally wrote the Romeo and Juliet Suite in 1935 for the titular ballet produced by the Kirov theatre (now Mariinsky). In addition to the somewhat standard instrumentation, the ballet orchestration also requires the use of tenor saxophone, a voice that adds a unique sound and contributes to the sense of drama prevalent in Shakespeare’s original work. For this performance, John DeMain has hand-picked the best excerpts from across the work to create one breathtaking orchestra piece.

Concerto No. 2 is separated by 22 years from Johannes Brahms’ first piano concerto. Piano Concerto No. 2 is dedicated to Brahms’ teacher Eduard Marxsen and premiered in 1881 in Budapest, with Brahms playing the piano solo. The work was an immediate success and demonstrates Brahms’ ability to blend beauty with fire, tenderness with drama.

About Emanuel Ax 

Emanuel Ax is considered one of the best-known concert pianists of the 21st century. As the Seattle Times reports, “[Ax’s] touch is amazing. The keys are not so much struck as signed upon — moved as if by breath. There is no sense of fingers or hammers or material mechanisms…[it] simply materializes and floats in the air.” Mr. Ax captured public attention in 1974 when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. In 1975 he won the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists, followed by the coveted Avery Fisher Prize four years later. He is a particular supporter of contemporary composers and has given three world premieres in the last few seasons; Century Rolls by John Adams, Seeing by Christopher Rouse and Red Silk Dance by Bright Sheng. Mr. Ax has received Grammy awards for the second and third volumes of his cycle of Haydn’s piano sonatas and has also made a series of Grammy-winning recordings with cellist Yo-Yo Ma of the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas for cello and piano. Mr. Ax is currently a faculty member of the Juilliard School of Music, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of Yale University’s Sanford Medal.

One hour before each performance, MSO program annotator, Michael Allsen, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticketholders. Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/sept2018programnotes

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

Tickets may be purchased in the following ways:

  • Single Tickets are $18-$93 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/ax through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
  • Student rush tickets 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 $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Subscribers to 5 or more symphony subscription concerts can save up to 50% off single ticket prices. More information is available about the season at: https://madisonsymphony.org/18-19

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


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

The Presenting sponsors for the September concerts are: Joel and Kathryn Belaire. Major funding is provided by: The Wisconsin State Journal and Madison.com, Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Kenneth A. Lattman Foundation, Inc., Rosemarie and Fred Blancke, and David and Kato Perlman. Additional funding is provided by Jeffrey and Angela Bartell, Marvin L. Conney, and the Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.