Ilana Setapen’s Violin Playing Is Front and Center at the MSO

And she loves the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s mix of old with new in the spring lineup.


As acting concertmaster at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, violinist Ilana Setapen gets a front row seat for every concert. Recently, she’s performed with the likes of Andrea Bocelli and Stewart Copeland. This month, she’ll share the stage with Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry (Feb. 25). Before the performance, they’ll rehearse together once. “When an artist like Renée comes in, it’s one rehearsal and one performance,” Setapen says. “Most of the preparation is done in advance by the musicians themselves.”

A Texas native from a musical family, Setapen joined the orchestra in 2009 and has been a featured soloist every year since, including the long-awaited MSO debut of Bolcom’s Violin Concerto last fall. Setapen says the Milwaukee Symphony has lately become a desirable place for guest artists.

“The biggest thing I take away when I speak to guest artists is not just what a great orchestra the Milwaukee Symphony is, but what a great city Milwaukee is,” she says.



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On top of exciting soloists, Setapen is looking forward to the packed lineup the MSO has going into the spring season. Resident conductor Yaniv Dinur will lead the orchestra in works by two modern American composers, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and John Adams (April 1-2), and Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam will play Mozart’s “Concerto No. 25” (April 8-10). On May 20-22, the program blends French and Japanese composers, boasting two requiems in a single evening – one by Tōru Takemitsu and the other by Maurice Duruflé.

Setapen says that new music can be intimidating to audiences, but this season’s blend of recognizable classics with living composers and updated pop programs has a lot for audiences to connect with.

“There’s so much good music out there that’s written recently,” she says. “As much as we love playing the standard classical repertoire, we like to play new things, too.”

Not to leave out Beethoven fans, the MSO will revisit his Symphony No. 6, Pastoral (Feb. 18-20), and the composer’s glorious Ninth Symphony with full orchestra and chorus is the cherry on top of this excellent season (June 16-19).


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s February issue.

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