THE MILLBROOK INDEPENDENT: Gustav Mahler & Joan Tower at Bard
“Last weekend there were two performances of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony; this master of narrative symphony, inspired by Dante’s Alighieri’s epic masterpiece, occupied the second part of the program at Sosnoff Theater, which opened with Soprano Samantha Martin singing four selections from George Theophilus Walker’s Lilacs, a series of songs based upon Walt Whitman’s poems, for which he won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. Martin won the 2020 Bard Conservatory’s Concerto Competition singing Lilacs; her powerful voice ensures an operatic career to follow. I was impressed by “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d” and shivered with joy at “O powerful western fallen star.
Joan Tower’s 1989 Flute Concerto (1989), premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1990, provided an opportunity for flautist Andrea Abel to display her technical and emotional register to flourish in competition with The Orchestra Now. Opening with a solo in a low register (a surprise), the flute engages the orchestra in dialogue. The middle movement allows the flute a long solo in the upper register, as if letting the orchestra know what is possible with the flute—in this movement there are echoes of Debussy’s lingering shadow, yet we are moving beyond Debussy. Now that the orchestra knows what a great flutist may do, a wonderful agreement is reached with the orchestra which accompanies the flute to an impressive, smashing climax! This work exists both in a small orchestral version as well as larger symphonic version. I had heard once before the smaller orchestral version and was impressed, yet this larger orchestral version conducted by Joan Tower remains more memorably impressive. Abel displayed her complete command of flute registers!
. . . Like Dante, Mahler’s musical epic remains a personal quest for truth in life. The Orchestra Now under Dr. Leon Botstein delivered an outstanding performance with unified, gossamer moments, and thunderous achievement!” —Kevin T. McEneaney