Lucky In Love: Peter Thomas & Madeleine Kabat

David Lewellen

Tagged Under: Cello, MSO Musicians, Musician

When Peter Thomas and Lynn Kabat began dating, he was a member of the Milwaukee Symphony’s cello section and she was a freelance cellist hoping to win a job. Now they are married and both playing full-time for the MSO, after many twists and turns.

The two actually met more than a decade ago at the Cleveland Institute of Music, when Peter was a graduate student and Lynn was in high school. “But we weren’t dating then,” Kabat specifies.

Nevertheless, the two stayed friends via Facebook as Peter went to the New World Symphony in Florida and then to the MSO, while Lynn went through college and graduate school and began taking auditions. Then the job of principal cello in the MSO opened up.

“Was that in 2011 or ’13?” Lynn asks.

“ ’11,” Peter says. “Because my father passed away that year, and you never got to meet him.”

Lynn let Peter know she’d be in town and advanced to the finals of that audition (won by current principal cello Susan Babini). But when she got together with Peter, sparks flew. And the MSO began inviting her back as a substitute musician, which meant more time to develop their relationship. Two years later, she moved to Milwaukee to be with Peter full-time while pursuing her freelance career, substituting with the MSO and other full-time orchestras while also playing in the symphonies of Madison and Amarillo, Texas.

The pair got engaged in 2013 and married in 2015 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield – giving them a reason to feel nostalgic every time the MSO performs there.

And then last spring, the MSO announced an audition for assistant principal cello. Lynn had taken about 20 previous auditions for full-time jobs, “but I had a lot riding on this one. I wanted to be home more. It was a lot of pressure.”

Peter felt the pressure vicariously. Normally, he would have been on the committee that listened to the 71 hopefuls – but because his wife was one of them, he wasn’t even allowed in the Marcus Center. During the runup to the audition, he took on all household duties while Lynn practiced, and on audition day, he hung around downtown with their beloved Havanese dog Oreo, ready to offer canine therapy between rounds.

And now? “Life is easier” when they’re home together almost every week, Peter said. Lynn added, “For me, it’s a lot less complicated,” with less travel between gigs in different cities. “Taking a cello on a plane is awful.”

As acting assistant principal and a member of the cello section, Lynn sits in the front row, and leads the section when Babini is absent. It’s a change from sitting in the back of the section in previous years as a substitute. “But she is a good leader,” Peter said. “I don’t know if people knew that before.”

“And I hear solid support behind me, and it’s great,” Lynn adds.

The couple often perform together as a duo, including a recital next week in Cleveland and an upcoming performance on a very informal series that Peter puts together at Gibraltar MKE, a bar in Walker’s Point. “There’s a real gap between the musical worlds of the Pabst-Turner Hall-Riverside and the Marcus Center,” says Peter, who used to play in the Milwaukee indie rock band I’m Not A Pilot. “It was nice to have that outlet, to show people at Bastille Days and Summerfest that the cello can be played in that setting.”

And when Peter plays at Gibraltar, usually with an MSO colleague, “it brings classical music to a different place, where people don’t have to pay $50 a ticket or dress up,” Lynn says.

When the couple aren’t playing music at any venue, they enjoy eating out (“We always want the same restaurant,” Lynn said), spoiling their dog, making improvements to their house in Wauwatosa, and other handy projects; Lynn made her own wedding dress, for instance.

“It’s funny how your paths cross,” Peter said, reflecting on the unlikelihood of two random cellists practicing on the same hallway winding up united in love and work years later. “But sometimes we get lucky in love.”