Those who attended our performance of Ravishing Rhapsody experienced the joy of being back together in Overture Hall with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and guest artist, Olga Kern. The program began with an MSO tradition, the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” followed by the performance of Ravel’s “Alborada del Gracioso.” Pianist Olga Kern accompanied the orchestra for a magnificent performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra.” The concert ended with Beethoven’s third symphony, the “Eroica.” Read the reviews and view photos from the weekend to find out why this was such a special experience!


Matt Ambrosio / Capital Times: “With ‘Rhapsody’ and a heroic symphony, MSO returns to full strength”

“After a stellar strings-only program in September, the Madison Symphony Orchestra welcomed back the woodwinds and brass to officially kick off their season on Friday with a concert of grand orchestral colors, virtuosic playing and powerful tunes.”

“With the orchestral tuning note A 440hz, Overture Hall filled with timbres it hadn’t held in over a year. It took some rearranging on the stage so that all wind players were spaced properly, but the MSO ’s renewed fullness was invigorating.”

“Clapping castanets instigate similar rhythmic qualities from the entire orchestra, even the string players, who used their bows for percussive purposes on their strings. Watching the swaying heads of audience members, it was clear that I was not the only one moved to dance.”

“Notably, the MSO’s principal bassoonist Cynthia Cameron featured prominently. Her bassoon sang out from the busy orchestra, with a smooth tone that sounded nearly like a saxophone. “

“At times maintaining crossed hands for entire phrases, Kern displayed a variety of advanced piano techniques with control and speed. In the quickest passages her fingers, like hummingbird wings, moved so fast they looked blurred. During quieter moments, Kern’s melodies rang songful and heartfelt. I could have listened to her play the entire piece all over again.”

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Bill Wineke / Channel 3000: “Olga Kern Wows MSO Audience…Again”

The program (I promised I would get to it sooner or later) was glorious.

Pianist Olga Kern made her fifth performance with the symphony, beginning in 2008 and she is always a favorite of the audience.

This time, she played Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra.”

It is truly hard to believe that a mere mortal’s fingers could move as fast as Kern’s moved, pounding the keys at some points and dancing lightly over them at others.

When she finished, the audience kept applauding and applauding and might have just kept on if the house lights hadn’t come up.

Kern, incidentally, was not dressed in black. One of her trademarks is an array of gorgeous evening gowns (Friday’s was red) and she brings a separate gown for each performance.

Also on the program were Ravel’s “Alborada del Gracioso” and Beethoven’s third symphony, the “Eroica,” a piece both Swiggum and DeMain termed probably the finest symphony ever composed.

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Mike Muckian / Isthmus: Piano Pyrotechnics

After opening with an unadvertised performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which brought the audience to its feet in an impromptu singalong, the orchestra wasted no time getting to the main program, starting with “Alborada del gracioso,” written in 1919 by Maurice Ravel.  The colorful eight-minute opening, written to celebrate the composer’s mother’s Basque heritage, went from delicate to explosive in a matter of measures. It seemed a little noisy at times — odd considering that it was originally written for solo piano — but it was highly emotive, entertaining and a good way to start the musically rich evening.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 43,” has been performed by MSO five times since 1961, but guest pianist Olga Kern breathed new life into the 22-minute work. The first woman in 30 years to win the Gold Medal at the prestigious 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Moscow-born Kern delivered a delicate and robust solo that was a suitable match to the soaring orchestral backdrop. At times she soared with her fellow musicians, while at other times she performed in counterpoint using an impressive cross-handed technique that embraced the composer’s themes.

The audience greatly appreciated her performance, and she rewarded their standing ovation with an encore snippet from Prokofiev that further demonstrated her piano pyrotechnics.

Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55,” known as the “Eroica,” was “Beethoven’s best symphony if not the best symphony ever written,” according to DeMain. The composer had originally dedicated the work, written in 1805 and filled with heroic themes, to Napoleon Bonaparte, only to cancel that dedication when Bonaparte declared himself emperor of France. The 50-minute composition served as an impressive opening to MSO’s year of celebrating Beethoven’s 251st birthday.

MSO always proves it mettle with the longer compositions that occupy the second half of any concert, and they did so again with great aplomb. The composer abandoned certain symphonic conventions of his time, relying on the strength of his composition to redefine the genre. The music was textbook Beethoven, and MSO’s players once again carried the composer’s emotion and intellect to a beautiful, almost soulful conclusion.

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Hear what the audience had to say…

This was the first time I had been to Overture and a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert since the week before the pandemic closed everything down. It was great to see the orchestra again!

It was wonderful to be back listening to in person music making. There is an aspect to in person performance/music making that just doesn’t quite come across in recordings or radio, no matter how ravishing the performance.

Olga Kern was amazing! The orchestra strings sounded so smooth and silky.

Kern’s performance was beyond splendid. It’s so much better to experience this music live!

The most beautiful afternoon of music experienced in many moons!!! Excellent performance.

Olga Kern’s performance of Rachmaninoff was extraordinary. I am very pleased to have heard that piece in person now, especially the wonderful variation no. 18.

The music washes over you. You can’t get that same feeling through a computer screen.

The symphony as a whole is amazing with such accomplished individual players. Ms Kern’s piano finesse and skill was something to witness in person. We’ve never see anyone play in her style. We feel so lucky to have experienced it.

I have good recordings of all these works, but there is nothing to compare with hearing the music performed live! I have missed live music *so* much during this long pandemic. Great music is an emotional experience for me, and hearing Olga Kern and the MSO perform the Rachmaninoff “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” moved me to tears. Thank you!

It was amazing to hear live music. I was deeply moved by the performance and by the entire experience. We also loved the pre-concert discussion. Randall Swiggum is the best!

Olga Kern is a virtuoso pianist. It’s absolutely thrilling to listen to her play, and the Rachmaninoff is a perfect showcase for her talents.

The experience of hearing live music after so long was sublime. Eroica is an old friend that I have not listened to for a long time and I’m grateful to be reminded of how glorious it is. Olga Kern’s performance was glorious – great power and wonderfully lyricism.

Your string section is exquisite and world class. And Olga Kern is beyond words wonderful!

Olga Kern was phenomenal! So impressive! Also, the range of dynamics from the orchestra was really impressive. Also, we were sitting kind of high and it was fun to see the visual performance of all the musicians bowing and plucking in addition to the auditory experience.