What do Superman, the Catholic Requiem Mass, and Russia’s most famous pianist have in common? You might not draw many instant connections, but music can unify almost anything and anyone across space and time. That sentiment was the most delightful takeaway from my conversation with Maestro Ankush Kumar Bahl on Tuesday afternoon. He was kind enough to chat with me in anticipation of this weekend’s sure-to-be stunning concert. During our discourse he expressed a very apropos philosophical nugget regarding how our city’s exquisite symphony envisions unique and thrilling programs; like this one, surrounding Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique: “All music speaks to all people from a very young age.”
I agree with Maestro, that this weekend will engage everyone. At the rehearsal Wednesday, in addition to the swirlingly exciting sound itself, the subject matter inspiring each piece created a tapestry glittered with the trappings of Hollywood, history, and our world community’s mutually fabulous imaginative pursuits. A tango seduced Superman, Berlioz’ “artist” hallucinates his way through love and death, and one of the Church’s most famous and haunting chants danced throughout it all.
Maestro Bahl was excited to boast that the programs he and the creative staff at the Omaha Symphony develop, seek to demonstrate to everyone that these pieces of music, brand new and standard repertoire alike, create bridges from everyone’s imagination to the medium of our fabulous orchestra. Speaking broadly about symphonic music in general he elaborated “In the past […] there’s been an artificial façade or wall to the concert hall. My goal as music director in a great town like Omaha is to make sure that people don’t feel like there’s a barrier of entry to the concert hall.”
After my preview of this weeks’ rehearsals, I would relish that even one new ear, gets that message. Someday, I hope droves new people clamor to engage with exciting programs like this. There is so much in this concert for you. I don’t care who you are.
The concert will open with a movement from Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony:
Red Cape Tango. Daugherty aspires to explore iconic American moments and persons in much of his work. In Red Cape Tango, the music illustrates that Superman is drawn into an enthralling dance with death. The namesake dance style woven throughout, bespeaks both a familiarity and an exoticism. That comfort and foreboding combine into a singularly seductive display.
Patrons will see a newer kind of media built into the performance of Tango. Dancers will illustrate the action as they are projected on a screen above the ensemble. The screen will also render thematic assistance later in the evening during Symphonie Fantastique.
This piece is exceptionally fascinating. The juxtaposition of Latin rhythmic textures with almost every sonority the string section is capable of producing is vivid. The accent of the brass is stunning. Susanna Perry Gilmore, concertmaster, is also going to be featured in some wild and beautiful solos.
Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, is an almost infamous standard of the repertoire. It’s gorgeous, it’s challenging, it’s rousing, and when it was composed it was dramatically ahead of its time. When Berlioz wrote it, the changes Beethoven had made on the ground floor of Romantic Music, we still taking root. Programmatic Music, or music that expresses a narrative, was, compared to what we know today, in its infancy. Berlioz crafted a piece which showed the world of 1830, something that would seem familiar in a movie score in 1960.
Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, will be thrilling for entirely different reasons. An emblematic standard of the repertoire, and a virtuosic exhibition, Rhapsody features this concert’s guest artist, Gabriela Martinez on the piano. Born in Venezuela, Martinez has become an international sensation. She made her orchestral debut at age 7 and has since crafted a sterling reputation for her elegant approach to the stage and her incredible artistry.
Maestro Bahl, notes that he is lucky to call Martinez a friend, “I don’t think I’ve ever conducted her, but […] we were friends in New York City during and after my education and also hers.” It’s wonderful for me as a fellow musician to see such high-quality artists’ lives wind in and out of each other’s path as they grow and succeed. It’s a testament to the ability of music to unify not only our imaginations, but our conversations, our experiences, and our journeys. I was touched on Tuesday when Maestro added, “I think the common thing with all my friends who have come through here is that they are super talented but they are also super human beings.”
The most stridently unifying aspect of the concert is the Dies Irae motive from the Catholic Church’s Requiem Mass. This haunting and beautiful melody, offering sonic support to the text meaning “day of wrath” has for centuries been a pivotal element of the traditional funeral rites. These three composers were all inspired to fantasize in different ways how the implications of that chant melody could tell stories about dark, inspiring, or evocative corners of the human condition. The motive is heavily incorporated into all three works.
That also illuminates a beautiful aspect of our cultural reality on this planet. Maestro Bahl said it much better than I could, “We have to remember that it’s one person, one political system deciding to go to war. It’s not that culture. There’s something beautiful in [another] culture that we have to still experience.”
These imaginative and expressive ties bind us all across every kind of corporal or political border. I hope that Omaha audiences will continue, and in greater and greater numbers to give these exciting performances a try. Maestro wants them all to know, “Whatever we do, and whatever we come up with, we are presenting it in a way that feels like it’s for you.”
I grew up in church music and musical theatre. From my collegiate career and beyond I've traveled through opera, the symphony, the theatre and worship as a student, a performer, an entrepreneur, and a journalistic correspondent. I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to share with you some of the incredible and fascinating endeavors I continue to undertake in music and the arts. I don't need you to see the world the way I do, but I'll do everything I can to help you enjoy it as much as I have.