The Madison Symphony Orchestra was thrilled to welcome Yefim Bronfman back to Overture Hall for our January 20, 21 and 22 concerts, Towering Piano & Virtuosity. Read reviews from the concert weekend, hear what the audience had to say, and view pictures below!

Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “Pianist Bonfman Still Has It”

One of the things I most like about the music scene in Madison is that it introduces us to new experiences.

Madison Opera, for example, is staging two new (for Madison) operas February 3 and 5, “Trouble in Tahiti,” by Leonard Bernstein and “Seven Deadly Sins,” by Kurt Weill.

In order to keep an audience for new productions and performers, music companies must balance them with tried and true favorites, like “La Boheme.”

In the symphony, it is not the music that must be balanced, but the performers. The company balances new performers with audience favorites.

Which brings us to Yefim Bronfman, 64, who observed his fourth appearance with the symphony Friday night and captivated an almost capacity audience with Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra.”

That was 41 minutes of almost impossible keyboard work. Bronfman is no Liberace stylist. His fingers were rarely more than a couple inches above the keyboard but they moved as a blur, varying intensity and tone while maintaining an almost breakneck speed.

It was an amazing performance and Bronfman appeared exhausted as he returned several times in response to a standing ovation.

He didn’t play an encore. An encore to that performance would have been as anticlimactic as a rendition of “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater.”

Bronfman told the MSO marketing director, Peter Rodgers, before the performance that, as he practices on the theater piano he does so not to familiarize himself with the music, but to familiarize himself with the instrument so that he knows what sound to expect when he touches a key.

Bronfman previously played with the orchestra in 2003, 2008 and 2014.

Also on the weekend playbill were Franz Schubert’s “Symphony No. 3 in D Major,” a friendly and happy work, and Bela Bartok’s “Suite from the Miraculous Mandarin,” a rather bizarre ballet in which a clarinet stands in for a girl luring strange men to her room where they might be robbed.

Each of them was new to the MSO and the presented kind of a light counterpart to the Rachmaninoff.


Matt Ambrosio​ / Capital Times:“Yefim Bronfman and the MSO climb the ‘Mount Everest of concertos'”

Most often, the concerto piece at a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert ends the first act. But due to its monumental status among orchestral repertoire, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto ended the show.

The work is more than just a technical feat. It is also a gorgeous collection of penetrating melodies, intriguing harmonies and exciting phrasing.

Written and premiered by the composer when he was at his peak performance abilities, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor is widely known as one of the most difficult and demanding pieces in the Western classical canon. The composer notably wrote a second version of the work’s cadenza after finding the first version too demanding to play regularly while he toured.

To take on what Maestro John DeMain called the “Mount Everest of concertos,” the MSO invited renowned and remarkable pianist Yefim Bronfman. Rachmaninoff had said that “Music must come from the heart and go to the heart,” and Bronfman’s performance rang true to the composer’s sentiment. Displaying unmatched skill, the soloist tackled one demanding passage after another, and though much of the piece went by quickly, every moment was charged with Bronfman’s expressive energy.

The first act of the concert featured two pieces the MSO had never performed before: Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D major and Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin.”

Composed when Schubert was 18, his third symphony reflects the composer’s study of earlier classical repertoire, particularly that of Joseph Haydn. With songful melodies and spirited rhythms, the work was a warming start to a concert on a cold winter evening.

After a slow introduction in D minor, the first movement takes off in D major with a jaunty yet unassuming melody that builds into a resounding theme. The second movement contrasts the first with a delicate melody and impeccably restrained accompaniment. While the first two movements are all about melody, the second and third movements explore rhythm. The syncopated texture of the third movement propels the work forward, and the offbeat rhythms continue into the lively finale.

Sprinkled throughout the MSO’s performance of the symphony were impressive orchestral moments. During the fast-paced finale, for example, the MSO took an impressive tempo while staying in sync, particularly during rhythmically driving triplet passages.

Yet during other moments, the MSO missed the mark. The development section of the first movement, for instance, sounded disjointed, and the brass section had intonation trouble at the start of the third movement. That said, the MSO’s rendition of the symphony was invigorating and a strong start to the show…

Read the full review

Hear what the audience had to say…

Bartók was a revelation… a splendid, exciting, deviation from the norm. MUCH appreciated. Everything else was excellent, as usual!

Yefim Bronfman’s spectacular performance. I also LOVED the Bartok. Love classical in general, Really love modern composers. More of this, please.

Loved Mr. DeMain’s explanation about the Bartok piece. Fascinating stuff that enriched my listening experience.

The entire concert was unbelievable. The highest quality performances to date. I have never heard anyone better than Yefim Bronfman. Loved that Maestro DeMain explained the Bartok piece before the performance to allow the audience a visual to better follow the music. Also loved the Schubert piece and the information that showcased the various composers that seemed to have inspired his writing. The Best concert with MSO that we have ever attended.

I loved the dissonance of the second piece, and the piano playing was absolutely amazing! A truly once in a lifetime experience.

Wonderful performance by the Madison Symphony, and the breathtaking piano virtuoso, Yefim Bronfman.

Really enjoy the pre concert talk by Michael Allston, really adds to the experience, especially the Bartók piece.

Really enjoyed the variety of programming! Bronfman’s performance was superb!

I liked how different each piece was in style, mood, etc. and how different instrumentalists each got to show what their instrument could express. The pianist was excellent – so expressive.

All three pieces were performed superbly, and the crafting of the offerings was genius. It was very moving and exciting.

Both my husband and I thought the Rachmaninoff was absolutely gorgeous: world class quality, jaw dropping. I grew up in NYC, attending great classical performances at LincolnCenter, Carnegie Hall, etc. and can’t imagine hearing anything better! Kudos to John DeMain for his leadership and brilliance in guiding the orchestra to such an extraordinarily high level of excellence. And of course, to such a marvelous pianist, Yefim Bronfman. Thank you for such a thrilling performance.

The Bartok was extraordinary. John DeMain’s marvelous primer beforehand, gave clarity and insight that made it an extraordinary experience. YAY!

Quality and beauty of the performance. I liked the informative lecture. I am new to Madison and the Overture Center but want to get season tickets for organ and symphony next time.

Yefim Bronfman is a wizard, and his performance was outstanding. The Bartok piece was apleasant surprise.