If your favorite television saga finale left you disappointed this spring, you probably should have spent some time at the symphony instead. At the Holland Performing Arts Center on Friday night, the Omaha Symphony tackled all the heady and epic themes patrons thirst for from their evening entertainment.
Thomas Wilkins, music director, conducted. Serene, yet energized as ever, Wilkins didn’t speak much about the music ahead of time; instead he let the compositions speak for themselves.
The evening began with the incredibly famous Symphony No. 25 in G Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The opening motive of the symphony was used throughout film and media of the 20th century, perhaps most notably in the opening sequence of the “Amadeus,” the 1985 Academy Award winner for best picture.
“Sturm unt Drang” or “storm and stress” was a stylistic influence at the time Mozart wrote this, his first minor key symphony. Compared to much of Mozart’s earlier work, the Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, was more passionate than it was intellectual. It used drastic contrasts of texture, rhythmic variation and dynamics to give expression the upper hand over thoughtful aesthetics.
The orchestra was impeccable. Such an iconic work could have easily been heard as mundane or old hat, but the Omaha audience on Friday was lucky to hear a really exciting rendition of a favorite from Classical repertoire.
Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” or “The Song of the Earth,” comprised the entire second half of the concert. Everything the Mozart symphony offered up in adventure, the Mahler masterwork answered back with transcendence.
The six movements of the piece were based on Chinese poems translated by Hans Bethge. For much of his life, and in most of his music, Mahler was preoccupied with death and the pursuit of understanding it. Following the death of his daughter and very soon afterward a grim cardiac diagnosis of his own, Mahler began to set his reflection of these poetic translations.
The product of Mahler’s interpretation, “The Song of the Earth,” was a journey as refreshing as it was chilling. Pictures of youthful and natural beauty amid nature and revelry were juxtaposed against conclusions of life’s expiration.
The music itself was just as stirring as the material. A large orchestra used a vast scope of instrumental textures and dynamic destinations to illustrate joy, playfulness, crisis and sorrow.
Mahler composed many of his symphonic works for orchestra and the human voice. “The Song of the Earth” a stunning example of this trend, utilized a mezzo-soprano and a tenor to present the text of the piece.
Issachah Savage, sang the tenor movements of the piece in his Omaha Symphony debut. Savage’s incredibly organic tone and agility were delightful. The material of the poetry was visceral to enjoy as a reader and as a listener. Even in German, Savage’s portrayal of the dark and divine themes seemed accessible and warm.
Michelle DeYoung, also made her symphony debut. DeYoung was exquisite. Her rich voice and exceptional musicality allowed her to collaborate with the ensemble as though they were old friends. While her voice told poignant and brief stories about formative human moments in nature, her eyes were just as fascinating, seeming to see the tales unfold for the first time. Her sensitivity to the orchestra was such that she never overpowered, nor was overpowered by them. She merely traveled with them through the expansive score.
DeYoung sang the final movement of the symphonic work. Equally as impressive as her voice was her silence. Even when the orchestra presented the sweeping passages of exploration Mahler composed without any singing, DeYoung seemed to be transported by the music and never ceased to tell the story with her face and eyes, even when her sterling voice was silent. The evening ended with a prompt standing ovation.
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