A cheerful and masked crowd returns to the MSO

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Photo courtesy of the Opening Center

MADISON, Wisconsin – One of the best things about the Madison Symphony Orchestra is that it’s quite easy to feel like friends when attending a concert.

Perhaps this was especially true on Friday night when the OSM returned to Overture Hall after being dark for over a year due to Covid.

Not that Covid has disappeared.

To enter the Overture Center, customers had to be masked and show proof of vaccination and photo ID. The orchestra itself was tested for the virus twice a week and, along with conductor John DeMain, was masked throughout the performance.

Plus, the program was a change of plan. Originally the theme of the concert was “Joyful Reunion, Beethoven’s Nineth”, the “choral symphony”. It features a large choir and a large choir singing through masks. . .good you know.

Instead, DeMain hosted a “String Spirit” concert featuring the strings, percussion, and organ of the symphony, but no horns and no woodwinds.

It turned out to be a wonderful concert.

It featured organist Greg Zelek, violinist Suzann Beia, violinist Laura Burns, cellist Karl LaVine and Christopher Dozorist on viola. The 90-minute program included Elgar’s “Rhapsody Quartet”, Poulenc’s “Concerto in G minor for organ, strings and timpani” and “Serenade in C major for string orchestra” by Tchaikovsky.

But, above all, the night was only an opportunity to meet and remember certain traditions.

One of them is the thunderous applause offered by CEO Ann Bowen as she carries DeMain’s score to the podium. It started a few years ago, maybe because people confused it with the first violin, but it seemed like a good thing to do and it’s worth it.

But that doesn’t happen in most symphonies.

Plus, this concert is kind of a pre-season. The regular symphony season begins October 15, 16 and 17 and will feature pianist Olga Kern (a Madison favorite) and also begin with the “Star Spangled Banner”. Personally, I was hoping it would have been played by strings on Friday, but tradition is tradition.

In addition, it is customary for DeMain to shake hands with first violin, Naha Greenholtz and star performers. But DeMain punches and Zelek nudges. We’re making adjustments, I guess.

The audience for this first concert was quite sparse, around 400 spectators in a theater which will be able to accommodate more than 2000 seats. And one thing that wasn’t traditional were the masks. Normally, a good percentage of the audience appears familiar even if you don’t know each person by name. But, with the masks, it was difficult to identify even acquaintances by looking at the top of each person’s head.

But, let’s not be picky. MSO is back and it’s great to be back home with the family.


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