The first movement of Gustav Mahler's massive Symphony No. 3 evokes the coming of summer.
So it was, as it happens, seasonally inappropriate for a late September concert. But the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of the work on Saturday night was in every way appropriate as a kick-off celebration for the Phil's 20th season.
In turns stirring, playful and inspirational, the concert at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center demonstrated the best qualities of the Phil.
Before the musical demonstration, however, top Central Florida elected officials spoke of the importance of the orchestra.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs called it an "absolute joy" to serve with Dyer as honorary co-chairs of the Phil's anniversary season. She thanked the audience, which packed the Bob Carr: "Your support and your love is what keeps this going," she said.
But no matter how uplifting the politicians' words, they couldn't compare with Mahler's celebrated work. Written between 1893 and 1896, Mahler's Symphony No. 3 is his longest, stretching upward of an hour and a half. ("Everyone's gone to the bathroom, right?" Dyer joked in his opening remarks.)
The symphony contains six movements, dealing with nature, animals and then higher concepts such as human pain and God's love.
Things started less than perfectly as the horns had some shaky notes in their important opening salvos. (Perhaps the players were still pondering the political gushing.) Things improved, though, with strong performances from the trombone and trumpet players, making emotional sweeps with their melody lines.
Conductor Christopher Wilkins kept a steady pace, not rushing but not letting the dynamic interludes drag. He quickly built momentum to such a pitch that at the movement's conclusion it was the all the audience could do to keep from applauding, a classical-music etiquette no-no. Then soprano Samantha Barnes Daniel took the stage, creating a conundrum worthy of Miss Manners — for it is acceptable to clap for an arriving soloist.
With no time to consult Miss M, the audience burst into relieved applause. That gave Wilkins time to towel off his face after his energetic conducting.
Subsequent movements showed the versatility of the orchestra, augmented for this performance with additional players. A lovely lightness in the strings marked the second movement. The finale was a delight of swelling legato sounds.
The "animals" movement was so bright and frisky, cartoon critters came to mind rather than the call of the wild. But that provided a striking contrast to the somber movement that followed, featuring Daniel in a precise, subdued turn.
Key players came through, too. Concertmaster Rimma Bergeron-Langlois provided lilting passages and delicate high notes. Principal trumpet player Lyman Brodie delivered an exceptionally phrased off-stage solo.
The women's and children's choruses from Florida Opera Theatre and women from the University of Central Florida Chorus added fine musical shadings to the fifth movement, "What the Angels Tell Me." The well-behaved children, especially, looked like angels, perched on platform high above the stage.
Wilkins and the Phil's executive director, David Schillhammer, have made collaboration with other arts groups a hallmark of the Philharmonic. When the results are as pleasing as Saturday night's season-opener, that's reason to celebrate indeed.
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