Clarinetist Joseph Morris (from left), violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Emanuel Ax will be featured soloists this season.
The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 90th anniversary this 2015-16 season with a mix of mainstream favorites and once-favorites that deserve restoration. Many of the concerts feature visiting soloists -- some new, others cherished old friends.
Maestro John DeMain discussed the upcoming season over lunch, pointing out his desire to offer solid satisfaction and excitement in the well-established format of eight programs, each performed in three weekend concerts.
The Sept. 25-27 program spotlights the orchestra. The soloist comes from within MSO ranks: The brilliant principal clarinetist Joseph Morris will play Aaron Copland's jazzy Clarinet Concerto. In addition, the MSO will play Beethoven's "Leonore Overture No. 3" and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's rousing "Symphony No. 4."
On Oct. 16-18, MSO balances Haydn's elegant "Symphony No. 85" with Sergei Rachmaninoff's dazzling "Symphonic Dances." The Canadian-born violinist James Ehnes will mark his first Madison visit by reviving Max Bruch's colorful "Scottish Fantasy."
The program for Nov. 20-22 will combine Maurice Ravel's witty "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" with "Symphony Fantastique," Hector Berlioz's masterpiece. Another newcomer to the MSO stage, cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio, will play the brilliant and influential "Cello Concerto No. 1" by Camille Saint-Saëns.
The MSO finishes out the year with "A Madison Symphony Christmas" Dec. 4-6, with the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs and Mt. Zion Gospel Choir.
The season resumes Feb. 12-14, offering Tchaikovsky's beloved "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture" and the Second Suite from Ravel's ballet "Daphnis et Chloe." Beethoven's "Violin Concerto" will be performed by the Russian-born, British-trained violinist Alina Ibragimova.
The March 11-13 program opens with a relative novelty, the dashing overture to Dmitri Kabalevsky's opera "Colas Breugnon." DeMain returns to a favorite composer, Gustav Mahler, for the composer's understated (for Mahler) "Symphony No. 4." An always-welcome guest, the versatile pianist Emanuel Ax will bring out of the shadows not one but two neglected masterpieces, "Symphonic Variations" by César Franck and "Burleske," composed by the restless young Richard Strauss.
The April 1-3 program, "Ohlsson Plays Brahms," will feature the recent "Symphony No. 1" by the rapidly rising young American composer Steven Stucky. It will stand next to Richard Strauss' bravura symphonic poem, "Don Juan," featuring visiting master pianist Garrick Ohlsson.
The season finale (April 29-30, May 1), will combine Respighi's blockbuster "Pines of Rome" with the rousing "Carmina Burana" of Carl Orff, welcoming three visiting vocalists and the Madison Symphony Chorus.
It will, indeed, be a solid and satisfying season. And Maestro DeMain, now in his second decade with the MSO, says he looks forward to how the orchestra and audiences will react to his choices of repertoire.