Beginning with caroling in the lobby, and the entire audience singing Christmas carols together for the finale, this beloved annual Madison tradition brought the holiday season to a glorious start! A Madison Symphony Christmas featured soprano, Elizabeth Caballero, tenor, Jared Esguerra, the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Mount Zion Gospel Choir, and the Madison Youth Choirs. Read the reviews and view photos from the weekend to find out what made this festive concert so memorable!


Lindsay Christians / Capital Times: “Give two standing ovations for A Madison Symphony Christmas”

“Madison greeted the symphony’s annual Christmas concert with not one but two standing ovations before the caroling finale began.”

“Instead of processing down the aisles of Overture Hall, the young singers popped up on risers like Charlies-in-the-box to sing the opening piece, a brassy, boisterous “Joy to the World.” It was a fitting, festive opening to a concert of orchestral pops, choral classics and a little Bach, just for fun.”

“Soprano Elizabeth Caballero, glittering in a black lace high-low gown, brought reverence to Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” while tenor Jared Esguerra earned the first standing O of the night for a warm, rich rendition of “O Holy Night.””

“Conductor Beverly Taylor has been leading the Madison Symphony Chorus for 25 years, and her singers’ delight in returning to John Rutter’s “Gloria” was clear in all three movements. Bright and high energy with sweeping dynamic contrasts, this piece was clearly as fun to sing as it was to listen to.”

“Also getting better at every turn is Leotha and Tamera Stanley’s Mt. Zion Gospel Ensemble, this year a core group of nine singers (including Tamera) with Leotha on keys. Tamera took the audience to church during “Yes, This is Jesus,” a Stanley original with tight harmonies and spirit to spare. And there it was, another standing ovation.”

“DeMain intimated that Peter Jaffe’s “Symph-Hanukkah,” an awfully entertaining orchestral medley of traditional Hanukkah tunes with klezmer flourishes, was the first time he’d programmed a piece honoring the Jewish holiday. He dedicated it to Madison Youth Choirs director Mike Ross, who appeared for bows in a menorah hat.”

“Yet in most ways, A Madison Symphony Christmas 2021 is the same big-hearted, big-tent musical event it’s always been. As everyone — the symphony chorus, the youth choirs, the gospel ensemble, the symphony — joined in for a Leotha Stanley original finale (“Christmas Time is Here”), I couldn’t help but grin as the women swayed in neat unison and the guys looked perilously close to knocking each other off the risers.”

Read the full review


Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “Christmas Returns Officially With MSO Concerts”

“Christmas really doesn’t return to the Madison arts scene until the Madison Symphony Orchestra offers its annual Christmas extravaganza.”

“The occasion actually starts before the auditorium opens its doors. The Madison Symphony Chorus leads a half-hour hymn sing in the lobby – this year each of the singers was masked.

One little girl, dressed in a white sweater and a long Santa hat, joined conductor Beverly Taylor in conducting the first carol and, then, withdrew to the sidelines but kept waving her arms in beat with the music.”

“This year, soprano Elizabeth Caballero, familiar to the Madison audience for her appearances with the Madison Opera, and tenor Jerod Esguerra, who is making his first appearances in Madison, shared the stage and pretty much thrilled the audience.

Flutist Stephanie Jutt, a member of the orchestra, took the stage to perform Jonathan Dove’s “The Magic Flute Dances.”

Organist Greg Zelek was rehearsing his role with a silent organ before the concert opened. The Overture Concert Organ is a gigantic instrument – but its keyboard sends electronic signals to the organ, so Zelek’s hands could race across the keys and his feet could dance on the pedals, but no sound emerged until he wanted it to.

During the carol sing that ends the concerts, most of the audience wears Santa hats; Zelek’s was large enough to cover an elephant’s head.

And all of this just reinforces what a tremendous blessing John DeMain has been to this community for the past 27 years. He keeps bringing in young talent from around the world but keeps his eye open constantly for the musicians in Madison who deserve honored stature., the Mount Zion Gospel Ensemble, for example, who bring the audience to its feet each year.

Christmas is now officially here. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s coming in style.”

Read the full review

Hear what the audience had to say…

Jared Esguerra’s O Holy Night took my breath away! And seeing John DeMain in action is so heartwarming… just love him more each year!

We subscribe mostly for the “standard” concerts, but our family has enjoyed the Christmas special for as long as it has existed. There is no one part much more compelling than the rest.

The orchestra and chorus is beautiful. The tenor solo, Oh Holy Night, was wonderful and inspiring. As always, Mt. Zion is outstanding.

The music was AMAZING! It was my first time ever and I was in AWE!!!!

This was our first Christmas with the Symphony and EVERYTHING was quite lovely. The stage decorations that changed with the various pieces and the angels floating above were nice touches. Jared’s O Holy Night was quite moving. John DeMain is a “treasure” and certainly makes the performance fun, entertaining, and educational as well.

We loved it all. The music was beautiful, festive, and fun. My fiancé and I agreed that the rendition of O Holy Night led to one of the few really genuine standing ovations either of us has experienced.

Best Christmas concert ever, I almost bought another ticket for Sunday!

Having a night out and listening to amazing music after more than a year of staying home. We loved the chorus and symphony. The opening number, Joy to the World made my spirits soar.

It was just a beautiful experience. Our first time attending the Christmas concert. Jared Esguerra’s first sole brought me to tears, it was so wonderful and his voice…

Jared Esguerra’s voice & interpretation were fabulous. You can’t get him back here fast enough. I love the Mt Zion Choir. Wish we would hear more from them. John DeMain’s comments throughout the program keep a cheerful momentum going & are helpful.

Jared Esguerra’s O Holy Night gave me chills–I especially loved the Rutter, the flute soloist, the Hanukkah piece and the Mt Zion Choir. It was all pretty wonderful!

The music was fabulous! All of it. The soloists were marvelous. Maestro John Demain is gracious, enthusiastic, learned…and all-around great!

We hope the amazing start of Joy to the World with the MSO and the choirs will become an annual tradition. It “goose bumped ” my husband and brought tears of joy to my eyes. 

The first few bars of “Joy to the World” gave me goose bumps and almost tears.

The quality and enthusiasm of the choirs was infectious. The audience was totally engaged. The conductor was his usual captivating self. Just a great show and a wonderful afternoon.

Where to begin!! We loved it all. The selection of music was a nice mix of classical and Christmas standards. Jared’s O Holy Night was fantastic. I’m a fan of Stephanie Jutte so appreciated her flute solo. The symphony and all choirs were just wonderful. Our community is so fortunate to have the Overture Center.

Quality performers and an amazing choice of music for the program. John DeMain has expert rapport with audience. Mt Zion Choir is outstanding! Their voices are beautiful. The male soloist of Holy Night was brilliant! LOVED Hanukkah segment !!

It’s perfect – singing along, symphony music – loved the Bach piece, the singing is gorgeous, love the alleluia chorus, the gospel choir, John DeMain, all of it!!!

They are so wonderful!! I loved everything about them!! This was the most beautiful concert I have every attended. The combinations of the type of music performed was wonderful!! My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed coming to this concert. We were so glad to be able to attend a concert in person again!! Keep up the great work.

The precision of MSO, THE MSO Chorus and the Madison Youth Choirs- the balance, blend , articulation.