Now in his 20th season as Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Grammy and Tony Award-winning conductor John DeMain is noted for his dynamic performances on concert and opera stages throughout the world.
During his tenure with the MSO, DeMain has brought the orchestra to a peak of artistic excellence that led The New York Times to say, “it was tempting to compare this regional orchestra even with a major international ensemble…the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra,” and to add, “DeMain is obviously a gifted orchestra builder.” He has also overseen the orchestra’s move into the world-class Overture Hall and expanded the subscription season to triple performances.
Jake Heggie, just one of the outstanding American composers with whom DeMain has collaborated, recently assessed the conductor’s broad appeal, saying, “John understands dramatic pacing…that’s not true for all conductors….There’s no one like John DeMain. In my opinion, he’s one of the top conductors in the world.”
DeMain’s active conducting schedule has taken him to the stages of the National Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the symphonies of Seattle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Houston, San Antonio, and Jacksonville, along with the Pacific Symphony, Boston Pops, Aspen Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestra of Seville, the Leipzig MDR Sinfonieorchester and Mexico’s Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional. He has been a regular guest conductor with Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center, New York City Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, Virginia Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Glimmerglass Festival in up-state New York, Portland Opera and Mexico’s National Opera.
DeMain also serves as Artistic Director for Madison Opera and, until recently, for Opera Pacific, where he led an unprecedented seven-company co-production of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking in 2002. In May of 2013, DeMain returned to the Kennedy Center for a month-long run of Show Boat with Washington National Opera. In August he conducted the final concert at San Francisco Opera’s acclaimed Merola Program. During the 2013-2014 season he will lead eight MSO concerts and conduct three productions for Madison Opera. He also returns to Virginia Opera to conduct a new production of Carmen and returns to San Francisco Opera for the company debut of Show Boat. Future seasons include returns to Seattle Opera, Washington National Opera and Portland Opera.
DeMain opened Seattle Opera's 2011-2012 season with performances of Porgy & Bess, and returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago for a highly acclaimed production of Show Boat. In 2009-2010 he led the Canadian premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China with Vancouver Opera as part of the Cultural Olympiad that accompanied the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In 2008-2009 he made his debut with Lyric Opera of Chicago and returned to San Francisco Opera to conduct Porgy and Bess. In 2007-2008 he conducted William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge with Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.
DeMain was invited by Leonard Bernstein to conduct the world premiere of the composer's last opera, A Quiet Place, and DeMain has since conducted the world premieres of John Adams’ Nixon in China, Carlisle Floyd’s Willie Stark and The Passion of Jonathan Wade, and Sir Michael Tippet’s New Year.
During his distinguished 17-year tenure with Houston Grand Opera, in addition to conducting a wide spectrum of the standard operatic repertoire, DeMain led a history-making production of Porgy and Bess, winning a Grammy Award, Tony Award and France’s Grand Prix du Disque for the RCA recording. In all, he has conducted more than 350 performances of Porgy and Bess throughout the world, including performances at La Scala di Milano, Paris Opera (Bastille) and for Japan Arts in Tokyo. His critically acclaimed New York City Opera production of the opera was televised on National Public Television’s acclaimed Live from Lincoln Center series and garnered an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Classical Music & Dance Program.”
Live from Lincoln Center also presented DeMain’s productions of An American Christmas with James Earl Jones, Floyd’s Willie Stark, Joplin’s Treemonisha, Adams’ Nixon in China and Plácido Domingo & Friends. DeMain’s contributions to the series were celebrated in its 2006 30th Anniversary Broadcast, which featured excerpts of his New York City Opera Porgy and Bess performance and of “No Puede ser” with the legendary tenor Plácido Domingo. DeMain has worked extensively with Domingo in concerts throughout the world, most notably in the celebrated 1992 Concert for the Planet Earth from Rio de Janeiro.
DeMain began his career as a pianist and conductor in his native Youngstown, Ohio. After winning the Youngstown Symphony’s piano competition at age 18, he went on to earn his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the Juilliard School in New York City. He made a highly acclaimed debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and was the second recipient of the Julius Rudel Award at New York City Opera. He was also one of the first six conductors to receive the Exxon/National Endowment for the Arts Conductor Fellowship—for his work with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
DeMain holds honorary degrees from the University of Nebraska and Edgewood College. He was recently named a Fellow by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. He resides in Madison with his wife Barbara; their daughter Jennifer is currently a student at the UW-Madison.