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Savor musical infusions of 'Grandeur'

Omaha World-Herald

October 23, 2004

By Ashley Hassebroek


An entire orchestra collaborating on a strain of repeated chords, each one louder and more intense than the one before.


A full brass section plowing through a stately melody in unison. Strings playing furious tremolos at such speed that the rosin from their bows is flying off their instruments.


Can you hear it?


This is loud, sumptuous music. It's unrelenting and merciless. It echoes through the concert hall with a force and pomposity that leaves audience members with tingling ears and butterflies in their bellies.


It's music the Omaha Symphony is defining this weekend as "Symphonic Grandeur." The orchestra produced these sounds Friday night at the Orpheum Theater during its second MasterWorks program of the year.


The blockbuster program, expertly led by guest conductor and music director candidate Alasdair Neale, included Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor. Both pieces are grandiose in the energy they require from the orchestra and the conductor, and in the sound they produce.


The Grieg concerto is full of crashing chords, marathon arpeggios that repeatedly trace the entire span of the piano, and adrenaline-evoking rhythms. It features 22-year-old guest pianist Orion Weiss, a student of Emmanuel Ax who received the 2002 Avery Fisher Career Grant.


Weiss played the famous concerto with a lively stage presence that animated the music he was making. The technically astute pianist gave power and drama to the piece through well-placed pedal work and dexterous, responsive fingers. Neale's accompaniment accentuated Weiss' interpretation through well-timed chords and careful phrases that followed the pianist's lead.


Friday night, however, Neale shined brightest during the Tchaikovsky symphony. The work, first performed in St. Petersburg in November 1888, is full of soaring melodies (the most famous one is played by the principal French horn in the second movement) and showy displays of orchestral color and virtuosity. In order for the powerful piece to be effective, however, the conductor must layer and balance the sound very specifically. Neale, who is presently the music director of the Marin Symphony in Marin, Calif., was remarkably specific.


The 42-year-old San Francisco-based conductor had a repertoire of cueing gestures more expansive than most conductors' music libraries, and an attention to detail that was head-spinning to hear. He was swift, decisive, expressive and extremely vigorous on the podium.


When the program was over, when most everyone else was exhausted, Neale seemed to have the energy for a couple more hours of "Symphonic Grandeur."


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