Sunday, September 23, 2018 "triumphant night of Beethoven, Bernstein" conducted by Thomas Wilkins

Thomas Wilkins

Drew Neneman

September 22, 2018

Review: Omaha Symphony opens season with triumphant night of Beethoven, Bernstein

What fate destroys, faith renews.

This conflict and comfort were the center of the Omaha Symphony’s season-opening concert on Friday night at the Holland Center.

Almost 250 years after Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, during the centenary year of Leonard Bernstein, the orchestra presented three works by the two composers meant to light up Omaha’s imagination on the topics of mortality, destiny and how art can express each. Music Director Thomas Wilkins conducted.

The evening opened with the overture to Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio.” Bleak at the beginning, the overture quickly becomes a high-energy trip along the border of romantic and classical era styles. The opera itself is still contested as a successful piece of drama. But like everything by Beethoven there is something worth treasuring within it, and this overture displays some of the finest attributes of the larger work. Tremendous texture and lively melody complement the early moments of dark foreshadowing.

The second feature of the program was Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.” Inspired by W.H. Auden’s 1947 poem of the same name, Bernstein’s 1949 symphonic work guides the listener along a single evening’s discussion of existence and purpose had by three men and a woman at a Manhattan bar.

Bernstein wrote the larger musical work for much the same reason Auden composed the poem: The 20th century had changed the way multiple generations experienced God, faith and purpose in the wake of two world wars, a global economic transformation and the onset of the nuclear age. After a tortured opening theme, the characters debate, dream about, grieve, celebrate and ultimately renew their belief in humanity’s purpose.

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