A Day in the Life of an MSO Musician: Ilana Setapen

Ilana Setapen has many important roles, but most notably as the Associate Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Day in the Life is a new series that puts Milwaukeeans under the spotlight. What’s it like to live, work and play in Milwaukee? The answer is different for everyone. But these recaps will give you an idea. Read all of our Day in the Life posts here.

Ilana Setapen. Courtesy of JBe Photography.

Ilana Setapen has many roles: Associate Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, soloist, violin instructor, and touring artist performing with orchestras and at festivals all over the U.S. and abroad.

You could also call her a prodigy – first performing solo with an orchestra at the age of 15.

Now as a mother, her routine has changed just a little bit, and her days are long, though fulfilling.

7:30 a.m. – Ilana wakes up and mentally presses snooze for just a few more minutes.

8 a.m. – She gets two-year-old son Asher up and dressed, and makes a breakfast of eggs and toast with fruit — and lots of Anodyne coffee for her.

9 a.m. – Next she gets ready for work as the nanny arrives at her Bay View home. Stretching is a big part of her morning routine, crucial to prepare her body for the small muscle workout of playing the violin all day.

9:20 a.m. – Ilana leaves for work and listens to either NPR or a recording of whatever piece she’s performing that week en route.

10:00 a.m. – Orchestra rehearsal begins, and they come together as a group to perfect a piece of music. This week it’s Mahler’s great Symphony No. 9 under the director of the MSO’s former conductor Edo de Waart, visiting for the weekend.

12:30 p.m. –  Rehearsal ends and she heads home to make lunch for herself and Asher.

2:30 p.m. – Next she teaches a private violin lessons at home.

3:30 p.m. – Ilana takes a quick cat nap and then does household chores and picks up groceries at Outpost.

6:00 p.m. – Dinner with the family consists of chicken with raw peppers and matcha tea to re-energize.

6:30 p.m. – Ilana gets ready for the evening’s concert while her husband gets Asher ready for bed. She changes into a formal black outfit and puts on makeup before she does more stretching and warming up.

8 p.m. – Concert time! Ilana lives for sharing beautiful music with the Milwaukee audience. “It is always exhilarating to walk out on stage and see a crowd eager for music, but every week brings new repertoire and new challenges both mentally and physically. It’s a wonderfully fulfilling job with serious demands, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says.

10:30 p.m. – She heads to Rumpus Room, across from the Marcus Center, to grab a post-concert drink with friends and colleagues.

11:30 p.m. – Ilana goes home and winds down by getting ready for the next day.

12:30 a.m. – Finally, her head hits the pillow in search of some Zzzzzs…



Jenna Kashou is a writer, storyteller and journalist specializing in lifestyle and culture feature writing for print and web. She is a frequent contributor to Milwaukee Magazine, MKE Lifestyle Magazine, The Business Journal and more. She was chosen as the fifth writer in residence at the historic Pfister Hotel where she wrote about and photographed guests and events. A Milwaukee native, Kashou has lived abroad and visited far-flung locales like Greece, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina. She has always had an enormous sense of pride for her hometown and spreads this Milwaukee love everywhere she goes.