Those who attended our 22/23 season premiere, Infinite Joy, enjoyed a thrilling performance together in Overture Hall. Attendees experienced Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, one of the most iconic masterpieces of all time, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus and four opera stars. The program opened by honoring the brilliant tenure of our principal oboist Marc Fink with the Oboe Concerto by Mozart, who was Beethoven’s compositional inspiration. Read the reviews and view photos from the amazing performance below!
Matt Ambrosio / Cap Times: “MSO launches its season with a veritable ode to the joy of music”
Originally programmed for the 2020-21 season, and then again for the 21-22 season, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season opener ”Infinite Joy” belatedly celebrates two special occasions: Beethoven’s 250th anniversary with his monumental Ninth Symphony and the 2020 retirement from the MSO (after 48 seasons!) of oboist Marc Fink, whom maestro John DeMain called “an inspiration” to him. To kick off the season, MSO executive director Robert Reed addressed the crowd with words of welcome and made light of this concert’s reschedulings, affirming “the third time is indeed the charm.”
And it was a charmed evening. The concert had some of the regular signs of a season opener: the audience was charged, the orchestra excited and DeMain was as energetic as ever. But what set this concert apart was its profound engagement with joy. With the opening work, Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major, the MSO honored the joyous tenure and career of Fink, who featured as the work’s soloist. And with Beethoven’s Ninth, best known for its famous “Ode to Joy” melody, the MSO rang in a joyous new season after the past two had been disrupted.
With the opening work, Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major, the MSO honored the joyous tenure and career of oboist Marc Fink, who featured as the work’s soloist.
A perfect concert opener, Mozart’s Oboe Concerto is cheerful and beautiful. Throughout the work, soloist Fink demonstrated the fruits of his years of experience. His trills were clean, he displayed a great range of tone and dynamics, and he blended seamlessly with the orchestra. In the lighthearted final movement, Fink delighted the audience to laughter during the final cadenza with his humorous interpretation, and he continued to give the audience reason to remain smiling through to the end.
Fink delighted the crowd with an encore, an etude by Gilles Silvestrini, which was inspired by Renoir’s painting “A Path Through the Woods.” The short work features prominent dissonances that alternate with playful passages, and Fink’s tasteful performance was a musical telling of a stroll through an unfamiliar wood. His display of extended techniques and mastery of the highest oboe register earned him a standing ovation from the Madison crowd he has entertained for so long. When asked about how he felt about the whole experience, Fink only said, “it’s been a great run.”
In his opening remarks, DeMain described Beethoven’s Ninth and final symphony as “the composer’s view of the world” where “all mankind are brothers. … (A) hope for the world that continues to be ours.” Through melodic development and harmonic transformations, the work illustrates that hope. Beethoven’s Ninth is a widely celebrated work that is often exalted as the pinnacle of orchestral composition in the western classical canon.
Although this piece is best known for its fourth movement, the first three movements are equally innovative and exciting. The second movement has always been a personal favorite. It is perhaps the most rhythmically interesting movement in the work, with prominent syncopations and cross-rhythms, which the MSO handled smoothly. Staying true to its scherzo label, the movement ends with a bit of a joke: at the moment when Beethoven sets up a return to the trio section, the movement abruptly ends.
For the grand fourth and final movement, the MSO was joined by the Madison Symphony Chorus, directed by Beverly Taylor, and four vocal soloists. With the stage full, the ensemble gained the dynamic capacity to match the grandeur of the musical moment. It is always special to witness such a large ensemble in coordination, and the results on Friday night were palpable. The sound issuing from the stage washed over Overture Hall, and the moment felt magical.
The vocal soloists, Laquita Mitchell (soprano), Kirsten Lippart (alto), Jared Esquerra (tenor), and Matt Boehler (bass), blended well and each rose to the occasion when the moment called. Boehler, in particular, sang with power and conviction, and his interpretation of the text and music was gripping.
If this concert is an indicator for the rest of the MSO season, Overture Hall is in for a joyous concert series.
Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “It was Marc Fink weekend at the Madison Symphony Orchestra”
Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain has been trying to present Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for three years – the first two tries were canceled by COVID – and finally led the MSO in a spectacular rendition during weekend concerts.
But the collective heart of the audience went to Marc Fink, an MSO musician for 49 years and its principal oboist since 1988. He retired from the orchestra at the end of last season.
Fink was invited to return as the guest soloist for the concert’s opening number, Mozart’s “Concerto in C Major for Oboe and Orchestra.”
A modest professional, his workmanlike performance was so steady that, when he inserted a few bars of “On Wisconsin” into the piece it took a few seconds to realize that Mozart hadn’t intended it that way.
Fink is pretty much symbolic of the MSO musicians and a favorite of the audience, so much so that he received not one, but two standing ovations at the Friday performance.
DeMain, who is beginning his 29th year leading the orchestra, may not always be as flamboyant as he once was but he came pretty close as he conducted the 65-minute long Ninth Symphony.
It is a wonderful piece of music, employing the Madison Symphony Chorus and four excellent soloists, Laquita Mitchell, soprano; Kirsten Lippart, mezzo-soprano; Jared Esguerra, tenor and Matt Boehler, bass.
Before the Friday concert began, DeMain explained the chorus would come on stage between the third and fourth movements so that its 100 or so singers wouldn’t have to sit there for the long first three movements, and he asked the audience not to applaud for fear of breaking the spell of the symphony, conceding as he did so that he has no power to force an audience to do anything against its will.
But, when the audience returned after intermission, the entire chorus was seated behind the orchestra so, apparently, the singers also rebelled.
At any rate, it was a powerful presentation, especially the choral movement, which revolves around a theme of joy and a tune better known to most churchgoers as the basis for the hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”
Those aren’t really the English translation of the German text. The concert helpfully projected English subtitles on a screen, at one point noting that “Even the Worm is Granted Ecstasy.”
The pandemic, while in retreat, is not yet forgotten. The Overture Center and the MSO no longer require that masks be worn but “strongly recommend” that people wear them anyway. Probably about half the patrons and half the musicians did so. The chorus members were all masked during the first three movements but most removed them to begin singing.
Hear what the audience had to say…
All of the performers playing/singing together was something a recording could never mimic.
The Oboe Concerto and Marc Fink turned out to be the highlight! Great performance and very special to have a local musician in the spotlight.
The Ode to Joy is incredible every time, no matter how many times I hear it, and this was no exception. And that bass soloist was AMAZING.
The oboe concerto and Marc Fink’s encore piece were sublime, fantastic, moving, and on and on! Everything about the ninth symphony was fantastic.
Marc Fink was splendid in this performance (creative cadenza) as well as an outstanding Symphony leader for 48 years. The performance of the ninth was breathtaking!
This was the first time in 3 years I could attend a live performance, and felt the need for some joy, which I got here in abundance!
Both pieces were excellent. The scale of Beethoven’s 9th is breathtaking. The Mozart Oboe Concert in C was elegant and provided a nice contrast to Beethoven’s work. John DeMain’s engagement with the audience at the opening was delightful.
My experience is that MSO plays Beethoven exceptionally well. This performance lived up to that tradition.
John DeMain & all the performers are so dedicated to their craft they turn out stunning performances time after time. This concert, however, ranked higher than any other I’d heard. I was transported & so were the others in my party.
It’s always special to attend MSO concert in the Overture Center. Such a wonderful venue! Both musical pieces are wonderful in their own way and Mr. Fink’s performance was sublime. Also, what a joy to hear MSO play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.