Sinking cozily into the ambience of the Witherspoon Concert Hall at the Joslyn Art Museum a cinematic experience comes to life in three dimensions. Unlike a conventional theatre, the light never dies totally. The visual feast of Omaha’s foremost-art-deco-treasure play with the eyes as the music tickles the mind, and the ears.
This is what Omaha audiences should clamor to appreciate in the Omaha Symphony Joslyn Series. These chamber orchestral experiences are a musical hamlet in an otherwise sublimely cosmopolitan setting.
On Sunday November 14th, conducted by Music Director Ankush Kumar Bahl, the Omaha Symphony presented Toccata e Due Canzoni by Bohuslav Martinů, Concerto for Two Bassoons in F Major by Hinrich Philip Johnsen, and Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major by Franz Schubert.
The Johnsen Concerto, was inspired. On an already technically impressive program, the piece and its two bassoon soloists, James Compton – Principal Basson, and Nicholas Nelson – Assistant Principal Bassoon, were transcendent. The permeating, parallel dance of their individual lines throughout the piece, and the exciting departures from that duet, lifted me out of a cloudy day, and set me down in some kind of 18th century sunlight.
The ritornello-like sections of orchestral flourish danced around the two soloists like clouds. Compton and Nicholas moved, breathed, and in a sense sang together through the joints of their instruments. The 15 minutes soared by, and like a great dessert, I wished there was more left on the plate.
I don’t mind cheering for the orchestra, that I found this piece captivating; I cannot yet find a recording online that’s quite as satisfying as Compton, Nelson, and the Omaha Symphony’s rendering of it Sunday afternoon.
Christi Zuniga, Principal Keyboard, is also to be congratulated for her stunning contributions, uniquely featured in the Martinů piece. Toccata e Due Canzoni was written as a philosophical and aesthetic reaction to World War II, very shortly after the war. The duality of angst against hope, and harmony against dissonance, played out like a game of chess. Never surrendering to abject chaos: the lines of agitated motives and fragments tricked each other in and out of dominance revealing melodic arrivals and resolutions that satisfied the audience like the end of a long-awaited check mate.
Zuniga’s piano lines in the piece punctuated, motivated, and accelerated that emotional journey with simultaneous passion and nuance.
Following the Schubert Symphony No. 5, the audience demonstratively stood to applaud the fantastic afternoon of music.
Getting to know Bahl is becoming a highlight of the season. His warmth, and delight with each presentation show off a subtle, articulate, and insightful musical-wisdom. I am swiftly looking, more and more forward, to the manifold ways he will challenge, stimulate, and beatify our cherished Symphony in Omaha.
I was particularly moved when Bahl gleefully acknowledged that Nelson found the Johnsen Concerto "on youtube," and that’s how it entered the discussion of this season’s program.
We as a city have access to not merely a Symphony Orchestra but a municipal collaboration, whose artists are themselves at work like family. It shows, and sounds at these terrific, intimate concerts. Run - don’t walk – to experience – not just hear – what these Joslyn experiences are doing to ornament Omaha’s concert culture.
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.