The Grammy-nominated Omaha Symphony
(OS), pared to chamber orchestra size, treks across town several Sundays a year
to play at the Joslyn Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall. But since that facility is undergoing a
remodel and expansion, the OS has been performing at the University of
Nebraska, Omaha’s Strauss Performing Arts Center. Its smallish auditorium seats 422.
Sameer Patel was guest conductor this
weekend in a program that included two well-known works by Mendelssohn and
Stravinsky. Sandwiched between these
masterworks were contemporary compositions by Christopher Rouse and Osvaldo
Patel is the newly named Music
Director of the La Jolla (CA) Symphony and Chorus; he has also held associate conductor positions with various
orchestras and has received an impressive list of conducting awards. . He addressed the audience before each of the
contemporary works, and he seemed knowledgeable and was thoroughly engaging.
The program began with Mendelssohn’s
popular and familiar The Hebrides
(Fingal’s Cave), Op.26. The music is a recounting of the composer’s trip to
the Hebrides Islands off the Scottish coast and his visit to Fingal’s Cave,
famous in Celtic myths and legends. The
music at times mimics the rocking of the sailing vessel as well as themes
expressing the awe and excitement of the composer’s experience. It did
not take long to hear that the acoustics of the hall were dry and
clinical. There was little blending of
the orchestral sound; sections stood out and every instrument seemed to be
spotlighted. The good news is the OS
musicians are skillfu;, the bad news that the music felt cold and a bit
lifeless. Further, the performance
missed the arc of the music and story.
It seemed to sputter in place as if Mendelssohn’s ship hit the doldrums
and lacked forward motion.
Next, principal flute Maria Harding
joined the orchestra to performed Christopher Rouses’ 1994 Flute Concerto. Rouse was a Pulitzer Prize winning composer
whose music was widely performed and admired throughout his career. As classical
composing styles fled the experimental years of the 1940’s-60’s, a new American
style emerged that is characterized as “accessible, ” that is, understandable at first hearing, and
has melodic and rhythmic complexity.
Rouse’s Flute Concerto is an example of such accessible music. The piece has five sections that are played
without break, although it’s easy to detect when a new section starts through
changes of mood and tempi. Rouse said
the two outer movements were heavily influenced by Celtic music. The second and
fourth movements have fast tempi and the fourth also is similar to the
classical Scherzo, both playful
and light. The searing third movement is
a tribute to the shocking murder of a
two- year- old child by two ten- year- old children in the UK. The elegiac music rises and falls with
beautiful lyricism, the mood of which harkens back to Barber’s Adagio for
Strings. Patel and the OS musicians brought life and
intensity to the playing. Harding was
absolutely virtuosic and she and Patel seemed to share a vision of the music,
which made for a compelling performance.
The acoustics seemed less of an issue here since Rouse’s compositional
style can tolerate the clinical acoustics.
Next was Osvaldo Golijov’s
Tenebrae for string orchestra, originally written in 2000 for a string
quartet, and subsequently rearranged for
a larger string ensemble. Golijov’s
music combines various musical traditions (e.g. Argentine, Israeli) into
compositions that are the very essence of contemporary accessibility. The music was composed after he had taken his
son to experience for the first time a planetarium during a period of increased
violence in the Middle East. Tenebrae is
intense, moody, and achingly beautiful.
Its three sections are played without break, with the outer two being
reflective and the middle one being powerful and mournful. Interestingly
Golijov includes a string quartet within the string orchestra, a technique used
in the Tallis Variations by Vaughn Williams.
The piece is gorgeous, and the OS
strings were excellent. The low strings
provided solid bass and the violins and violas had a full shimmery
golden sound that is sometimes missing
when the Symphony performs at its home, the Holland Center.
The final work was
Stravinsky’s 1935 Jeu de Cartes, written for a ballet of the same name.
This was written during Stravinky’s neoclassical period, characterized by a
return to more traditional forms, structures, and techniques reminiscent of the
Classical and Baroque eras, while still incorporating modern harmonic language.
The ballet tells the story of a poker
game with the characters representing different cards in a deck.
There are three sections titled the First Deal, the Second Deal, and the
Shuffle. The music is supposed to be witty and charming and balletic. Unfortunately this performance did not quite
prove to be any of those. All the notes
were hit, but the OS seemed directionless; a ballet dancer would be hard
pressed to be inspired with this performance. It seemed that Mr. Patel decided
he was not going to leave his mark on the fairly well -known piece.
Yes, a half loaf (Rouse
and Golijov) was quite good and a good deal better than no loaf. Mr. Patel undoubtedly shows promise but he was unable to fulfill it
in two staples of the concert repertoire. The OS for its part remains a
talented ensemble well deserving of a
Published at EarRelevant.net.