Madison Symphony Orchestra's 2008-09 Season
|The Madison Symphony Orchestra Announces 2008-2009 Season
John DeMain’s Fifteenth Season Looms Large in Programming
John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) recently unveiled the guest artists and repertoire for the 2008-2009 season. The
upcoming season marks the orchestra’s 83rd year in the community and its fifth as the resident orchestra of Overture Hall. The 2008-2009 season
marks the fifteenth anniversary of John DeMain’s artistic leadership, and the Signature Season concept embraces and celebrates that milestone.
The MSO’s 2008-2009 season consists of 27 performances of nine programs, with concerts on Friday evenings, Saturday evenings and Sunday
afternoons in Overture Hall. The MSO had nearly 5,000 subscribers last season, and more than 50,000 people total attend MSO concerts annually.
The 2008-2009 season features music near and dear to the heart of Maestro DeMain. Highlights of the repertoire include Mendelssohn’s Italian
Symphony, Holst’s The Planets, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet narrated by American Players Theatre actor and
special guest Jim DeVita, an all-Beethoven program in February 2009, and Verdi’s Requiem with the Madison Symphony Chorus.
The new season includes the MSO debut of several guest artists of international renown, including violinists Henning Kraggerud and Julian
Rachlin, and pianist Olga Kern. Returning guest artists include pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Andre Watts, cellist Alban Gerhardt, and violinist
Sarah Chang. The Madison Symphony Chorus will perform twice, for the December Christmas Spectacular and in May for the Verdi Requiem. In
addition, Maestro DeMain and the MSO welcome the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, the Madison Youth Choirs, the Madison Concert Handbells, and a
group of accomplished vocal soloists in December and in May.
Music Director John DeMain will conduct five of the nine subscription programs in the 2008-2009 season. The remaining four programs will be led
by: Chosei Komatsu in October 2008, Anu Tali in November 2008, Daniel Hege in January 2009 and Yoav Talmi in March 2009.
The 2008-2009 season closes on a note of power and triumph with the Verdi Requiem. Featuring the voices of the Madison Symphony Chorus as
well as soloists soprano Karen Slack, mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson, tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson, the Requiem
speaks to Maestro DeMain’s lifelong love of opera in general and of Verdi in particular.
Subscriptions (season tickets) for the MSO’s 2008-2009 season became available on March 7 on the MSO’s website, madisonsymphony.org, and
through the MSO office at 608.257.3734. Single tickets, priced $15-$75, go on sale to the general public on August 23 through the Overture
Center Box Office at 608.258.4141 or madisonsymphony.org. Until then, tickets are available in subscription packages only.
The MSO is continuing its popular new subscriber discount of 50% off single ticket prices. New subscriber packages start at $54 for six concerts.
Renewing subscriber packages are 10-30% off, and start at $69 for five concerts.
By Jonathan Gramling
Karen Slack, who will be performing Verdi’s Requiem with the Madison Symphony Orchestra during its 2008-2009 season, has always had
the gift. The gifted soprano’s voice is so pure and clear as it reaches the heights of the musical scale. And it was a recording she listened to
in a music aesthetics class at the performing arts high school she attended in her native Philadelphia that led her to her career singing opera
and classical music.
“I remember one day in the class, I heard a recording of Maria Callas singing ‘Casta Diva’ and Jessye Norman singing an aria,” Slack said
during a telephone interview from her home in Sacramento. “I think my heart stopped. I was like ‘Oh my God, this is so amazing.’ I thought it
was just the most incredible thing I had ever heard. Growing up, I always liked to listen to classical music, but never thinking it would be a
career. But I was always attracted to the music and the sounds.”
Slack prodded her mother to buy her a Leontyme Price CD with Price singing Aida. “Every day, I used to listen to it and practice to the music
in order to imitate that sound,” Slack said. “And I could actually make that sound. It was always in me to be able to make a more operatic
sound. I used to play around and try to imitate the voices. That’s how I fell in love with opera because it was always just a part of me and it
really sparked something in me.”
Slack attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and has making her way in the operatic world ever since. The world of opera is
very competitive and it is difficult to get noticed. Once operatic singers complete their formal education, it is through competitions that they
are discovered. “Most of the time, people are trying to get into young artist programs at the four major houses,” Slack explained: “The San
Francisco, the Metropolitan Opera, Houston and Chicago. You try to do your competitions. I’ve been very, very lucky to have won or placed in
a lot of competitions. They are very important nowadays, especially. That’s how a lot of singers get seen by agents, managers and houses.
Often times they come to these competitions to scout out new talent. I’ve been very fortunate.”
On the top of every performer’s list of goals to accomplish is performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Slack got her chance after
she was a finalist in the competition of the Metropolitan Opera National Council in 2004. While she didn’t win, she got a chance to audition.
“They invited me to come and sing on the main stage, Slack said. “I got the contract to cover Luissa Miller. And I was just floored. Luissa
Miller is the title role. I got a phone call a couple of days before my first day of rehearsal and they asked me to come prepared and ready to
sing because the soprano was sick and she wouldn’t be there. So I’m thinking ‘Okay, I’m a cover.’ You have to be prepared as if you are
singing the role. And I was fine and sang for the first couple of days.”
The singer who was to play Luissa Miller was still sick, but Slack didn’t get her chance right away. The Met wanted to bring someone with a
name to start the production of Luissa Miller. So it appeared Slack would remain waiting in the wings. But then the singer whom they brought
in also got sick and Slack appeared in the title role.
“It was really kind of surreal,” Slack said. “So there was all this stuff going on and I didn’t know if it was me being a naïve singer or just so
focused, but I just took in the whole experience. And I had been doing all of the rehearsals for a couple of weeks, so I was really prepared.
But you are never really prepared. It’s like the one dream that you have every night and the one nightmare you have every night. I got the
chance to live my dream. They called me and told me they needed me to just sing the second performance. And I said okay. It would be my
Met debut. It was a fantastic experience. I got to sing three performances. And one of the last performances was the international broadcast
performance, so it was streamed all over the world. It was an incredible, incredible experience.”
Although Slack hasn’t performed in Europe yet, she has performed in the Philippines and Australia.
While Slack’s favorite role is Desdemona in Verdi’s Othello — Slack sees a lot of Desdemona’s temperament in herself — her favorite
composer is the German composer Richard Strauss. “I really enjoy singing his music,” Slack exclaimed. “I think it is very perfect for my
voice. I think even more so than Verdi, he’s the best composer for my voice. I think he really knew how to write for the soprano voice. He
doesn’t keep you high too long. He doesn’t keep you too low. I really feel connected. I really get him. I get what he wanted from the singer.
Everyone has their composer and character that they feel connected to. And Strauss is the one I really feel. I don’t even sing when I sing
Strauss. I’m there and I’m experiencing it. And my voice knows exactly what it needs to do when it sings that music. That’s a blessing.”
At the present, it seems that Slack has the best of all worlds. She recently got married to her childhood sweetheart and is fully engaged in her
operatic pursuits. And while opera may not be looked at as a traditional African American profession, Slack remains close to her childhood
friends back in Philly. And her friends are proud of her. “It’s like ‘Karen sings opera,’” Slack said. ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ It’s not that big of a deal to
them. But they think it’s great. I’m still Karen and I like that.”
During the next 5-10 years, Slack hopes to perform in all of the great opera houses and work with the great conductors. Equally important to
Slack is being a role model for those coming after her. “I would really like to be an example to young people that you can step out of the box
and still be cool,” Slack observed. “To me, that’s the most important thing. Of course singing in the big opera houses and the big concert halls
of the world is something I want for myself. But more importantly, on that big stage, it is important to be a good example to all young people
and to be a familiar face. ‘Okay, I know her.’ And to know that with hard work and lots of prayers and lots of courage to be able to say ‘This is
what I want to do.’ It might not be what everyone else wants, but that’s okay.”
Slack encourages everyone to enjoy opera and the performing arts. “It is important to go out to the theaters, to go out to the operas, to go to
concerts, if not just for the arts, then for your own soul,” Slack advised. “Do it for your own heart. You always come out smiling from a
concert.” And Slack’s celestial voice is bound to bring a smile to the face of everyone who comes and sees her perform.