Sunday, June 4, 2017 Review: Dynamic, accessible composition gives Omaha Symphony a chance to shine [Under Maestro Thomas Wilkins]

Thomas Wilkins
Omaha Symphony

June 3, 2017

It was a summery 89 degrees in downtown Omaha on Friday night, but inside the Holland Center at the Omaha Symphony’s presentation of Gustav Mahler’s 9th Symphony, it was 98.6 and spectacularly human.
It was the Omaha Symphony MasterWorks Series season finale, and the first time the ensemble has tackled the work in more than 20 years. Thomas Wilkins, music director of the symphony, conducted. Wilkins, though a lover of Mahler, was conducting the 9th Symphony for the first time.
The piece itself is timelessly approachable. Symphony goers and newcomers alike will love the accessible melodies and exciting textures. With 98 musicians — 60 of them string players — the forces required to accomplish this great masterwork numbered among the largest ensembles the Omaha Symphony has ever had on one stage.
Classical aficionados often regard late Romantic music, like that of Mahler’s contemporaries, as being filled with thrilling and avant-garde thematic material. These thematic passages are then bookended by comforting or familiar cadences and resolutions.
In Mahler, and particularly in the 9th Symphony, melodic passages ranging from the haunted and vague to the familiar are instead supported by endlessly surprising, sometimes serene twists instead of a resolution. Wilkins remarked that this effect transforms what would normally be a coda in the fourth movement of a symphony into a meditation.
“Here is a gift,” Wilkins elaborated, “and the gift is simply peace.”
The ensemble showcased a tour de force among its artists as many soloists were given opportunities to shine throughout the masterpiece. First violin Susanna Perry Gilmore graced the evening with multiple, sumptuous melodic entrances and elaborations on her violin. Thomas Kluge, principal violist, and Paul Ledwon, principal cellist, also offered stirring contributions.
Maria Harding, principal flute, was particularly memorable and sensitive among the woodwinds during the symphony’s first movement.


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