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. Jake Heggie, just one of the outstanding American composers with whom DeMain has collaborated, recently assessed the conductor’s broad appeal, saying, “There’s no one like John DeMain. In my opinion, he’s one of the top conductors in the world.”
During his two decades in Madison, DeMain has consistently raised the quality of the Symphony by introducing the industry standard of blind auditions, overseeing the move into the world-class Overture Hall, expanding the subscription season to triple performances, and continuously expanding the repertoire to include ever more challenging and virtuosic works.
His 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.
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. 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, 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.
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 returns to Virginia Opera to conduct a new production of Carmen and to San Francisco Opera for the company debut of Show Boat. Future seasons include returns to Seattle Opera, Washington National Opera and Portland Opera.
He opened Seattle Opera's 2012-2013 season with performances of Porgy & Bess, and returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago for a highly acclaimed production of Show Boat. In 2011-2012, he returned to Washington National Opera, and 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 at 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.
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. 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.”
The series 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. His 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, with whom he has worked extensively in concerts throughout the world, most notably in the celebrated 1992 Concert for the Planet Earth from Rio de Janeiro.
At Houston, 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.
DeMain began his career as a pianist and conductor in his native Youngstown, Ohio. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at The Juilliard School in New York City and went on to make a highly acclaimed debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. DeMain was the second recipient of the Julius Rudel Award at New York City Opera and 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 and he is a Fellow of 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 University of Wisconsin-Madison.