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Edo de Waart Ends on a High Note

May. 30, 2017
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Photo Credit: Jesse Willems

Edo de Waart ended his eight years as music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in a noble and high-minded fashion this weekend with one of the greatest of orchestral works, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. The sense of occasion on Friday evening deepened the profound, powerful performance.

Lasting 100 minutes, with more than 100 musicians onstage, plus soloist, women’s chorus and children’s chorus, this symphony is only for a master conductor such as de Waart. As he always does, he brought clarity and heightened detail to all aspects, with careful pacing and defined contrasts. Mahler constructed the symphony in six movements, with the first, “Pan Awakens, Summer Marches In” as the gigantic Part 1. The following movements organize a progressive, abstracted journey through nature to the final movement, “What Love Tells Me.” 

This orchestra de Waart built (hiring more than a third of the current players) performed as if inspired. Woodwind playing was elegant and artful. Thrills from the brass section included wonderfully accomplished solos from trombonist Megumi Kanda and trumpeter Matthew Ernst. Horns were glorious in sound. The string playing that began the final movement was heartbreakingly beautiful. 

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has emerged as one of the major Mahler interpreters working today. She performed the fourth and fifth movements with lustrous voice and enlightened artistry. Voices of Eterna from the Milwaukee Children’s Choir and women from the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus sang with fresh, crisp sound.

Some pieces illustrate the ache in humans for something higher, something poetically elevated from the prose of living. De Waart has been our guide to just that. He created an MSO that no one, including the musicians themselves, knew was possible. I’ve had the opportunity of hearing most of the major orchestras in the U.S. and Europe in recent years. MSO belongs among them in its quality. The one thing it lacks is a concert hall that will let it attain its full potential. 

The audience gave de Waart warm ovations before and after the concert. We will all be forever grateful for the world-class standard of performance he brought to this city.

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