What an absolutely incredible space! This was my first time attending the Symphony Joslyn Series. A slightly smaller ensemble of only Omaha Symphony strings, plus an oboe cameo, played the intimate Witherspoon Concert Hall at the Joslyn Art Museum on Sunday.
From the outset, the tone of the concert was a delightful change of pace from the Holland. The Holland Center features the Omaha Symphony Masterworks Series with a beautiful pomp and grandeur befitting some of the history’s most majestically conceived music. The Witherspoon Concert Hall experience, complimented the typical Masterworks thrill with an unexpected warmth and tranquility. Even the acoustics seem to wrap the listener up like a blanket to enjoy a completely different kind of repertoire.
Symphony Music Director, Ankush Kumar Bahl, conducted the entire program. Getting to know him better with each passing event, is also a pleasure. His gentle joy and obvious sense of humor shine through as he gushes to introduce the ensemble and the set list.
Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank, was the first piece of the afternoon. Originally conceived for a quartet, the strings-only ensemble used a fascinating array of their instruments’ sound arsenal to simulate the Andean wilderness and its local musical treasures. Pizzicato plucking, uncharacteristically percussive strikes of the bow, and a frenzied display of harmonic textures collaborated to transport listeners on a Peruvian excursion.
The second movement of Leyendas offered a stunning solo feature for Concertmaster Susanna Perry Gilmore. Throughout the piece solo passages played by the other section leaders were magnificent: Keith Plenert – 2nd Violin, Thomas Kluge – Viola, and Paul Ledwon – Cello.
The dance as the different sections passed around an atypical variety of percussive string sounds and harmonic constructs was enthralling.
The concert continued with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in A Major for Oboe d’Amore. The oboe d’Amore, played by Symphony Principal Oboist, Alexandra Rock, is a slightly larger double reed instrument than is usually heard with the ensemble. The instrument displays a warmer more subdued tone. Rock’s presentation was superb. The sweet, swirling ritornello melodies and electrifying interplay with the strings was a perfect dessert following the more sonically dense Leyendes.
In the Witherspoon space, the orchestra was able to display a different kind of sensitivity during the concerto than the grandiose expressive feel they showcase at the Holland. Feeling close enough to touch the orchestra, made the chemistry between the solo oboe d’amore and the strings conversational and close: each counterpart yielding for the other to take center stage whenever needed.
In the final moments of the concerto the violins and the oboe ceased their dance and landed together in a sweeping unison passage, which gave way to a standing ovation for the piece and of course for the triumphant soloist, Rock.
Following intermission Edward Elgar’s Serenade in E Minor for String Orchestra, exhibited a gorgeous collection of accessible themes, oriented around each other a in clever concise package. Bahl paused to converse over the work with the audience once more before he began. His kind laughter and obvious affection for his vocation are a brilliant ornament to the intimate Joslyn Series experience.
The final piece on the program, Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, was breathtaking. Bahl called the audience’s attention to the genius of the 3rd movement in particular. His forecast was perfect. The entire piece was a fitting tour de force to conclude an afternoon with the strings, but the 3rd movement offered up a rich, beautiful, and sad journey. Britten’s life was courageous and complex. The 3rd movement of Simple Symphony, seems to give the listener a glimpse of a secret, tender, but tragic place in Britten’s heart.
It would be a shame for Omaha not to be made aware how affordable and enjoyable our Symphony is! In addition to being the perfect musical snack for a lovely Sunday afternoon, they offer $10 student rush tickets for their concerts. We as fellow citizens should be doing all we can to encourage anyone we know with a student ID, to take advantage of these fabulous venues and captivating music.
Another standing ovation punctuated a charming afternoon of truly exciting music. Thanks to Ashley Peterson for the incredible company! Bonus for her, it was her first time at the Omaha Symphony! @AshleyRochellePeterson
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.