New World Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas – Mahler 5; Gil Shaham plays Boulogne

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Violin Concerto No.9 in G, Op.8
Symphony No.5

Gil Shaham (violin & director)
New World Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 6 May, 2022
Venue: New World Center, Miami Beach, Florida

The first part of this concert saw Gil Shaham in a Concerto by Le Chevalier Saint-Georges. Born Joseph Boulogne to a French planter and his enslaved mistress of African descent in Guadeloupe, Boulogne was educated in France, where he became a champion fencer and military leader, as well as a virtuoso violinist, with connections to the court of Louis XVI that included performing at Marie-Antoinette’s musical gatherings at Versailles.

In this performance, there was evident rapport between Shaham and the string ensemble of NWS fellows, with all clearly enjoying the experience. The Concerto offers infectious melodies and ample opportunities for the soloist to show off technical prowess. The second-movement Largo includes a harmonics-laden cadenza, and the Finale featured dazzling passagework, all dashed off with apparent ease by Shaham.

This was Michael Tilson Thomas’s penultimate concert as Artistic Director of the New World Symphony; he will become Artistic Director Laureate. Following intermission, a montage of photographs depicting MTT’s thirty-five-year association with NWS was projected above the stage, and he then was greeted by a prolonged standing ovation.

MTT, conducting from memory and drawing on his long experience with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, traced a coherent trajectory arc from funereal despair to a glorious, optimistic Finale. This performance could hold its own against any of the professional orchestras to which many of the NWS fellows will soon be headed – and from which several NWS alumni returned to join in celebrating MTT as well as to augment the current fellows.

All of the solo parts were played by NWS fellows, however, including Gianluca Farina’s brilliant trumpet fanfares marking the beginning of opening funeral march, Scott Leger’s superb horn obbligatos in the middle movement Scherzo, and harpist Phoebe Powell’s fine accompaniment to the strings in the Adagietto.

The Hall’s acoustic proved ideal for this work, surrounding listeners with a blanket of sound in strident passages, yet allowing the tenderness of the Adagietto to penetrate our consciousness. There was terrific ensemble playing throughout: quartets of flutes (in the funeral march) and horns (in the Scherzo); lyrical cellos and a resonant brass chorale in the stormy second movement; and the strings in fugal and pizzicato passages as well as in the Adagietto, in which MTT brought out its character as a love-song from Mahler to Alma. The return of the brass chorale brought the Symphony to a stirring climax.

As MTT acknowledged applause, he was presented with huge bouquets of blue roses from orchestra members.

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