A tree soaring stories into the air grows in silence, and in much the same way, some of the most towering tales can be told without a single word.
At the Holland Center on Friday night, the Omaha Symphony regaled an audience with a similarly epic assortment of fantastically speechless music under the direction of guest conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl in his Omaha debut.
The first set of the concert was a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s first ballet, “Swan Lake.” Tchaikovsky had a unique gift for combining melodies and textures to portray a variety of characters. Among them, Alexandra Rock, principal oboe, was mystifying as “the swan.” Additionally, soloists Mary Bircher (principal harp), Susanna Perry Gilmore (concertmaster-violinist) and Paul Ledwon (cello) provided incredible color and emotion to an already stunning orchestral performance. The standing ovation was immediate.
The second set, “Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante” by Frédéric Chopin was inspired. Chopin didn’t intend to tell a sequential story with the piece. Chopin instead relayed his life of musical study and composition in each athletic passage.
Guest pianist Charlie Albright returned to Omaha to perform this tour de force on the piano. His acrobatics on the keyboard earned another swift standing ovation. Then his frenzied encore of “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis summoned the crowd to their feet a third time.
The final piece,“Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major” by Dmitri Shostakovich, told a wide span of stories. Depending on whom you ask, he was telling his own story or the story of soldiers coming home from war. The symphony was remarkable in its presentation, earning another standing ovation. Then after an encore of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings in C major,” the crowd stood up again.
Bahl summarized a key to the concert’s success. Between acts, after two of the night’s four standing ovations and one of the two encores, he interjected, “I don’t know if you know this but you (Omaha) have an amazing ... amazing orchestra.”