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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Andreas Delfs’ Last Concert

Classical Review

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Andreas Delfs knows how to make an exit. After 12 years as music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, last weekend was his final concert. Symphony No. 8 by Gustav Mahler is rich in philosophy, theology, literature, and is one of the great monuments of symphonic literature. Because of the required large forces of added players, double chorus, children's chorus, and eight soloists, no orchestra can perform it often. The last performances in Milwaukee took place in 1973.
There is not space-nor am I smart enough-to briefly explain Mahler's endlessly interesting plan of combining the traditional eighth-century Latin hymn Veni, creator spiritus with sections from Act III of Goethe's sprawling Faust. Redemption is a broad theme. This symphony creates overwhelming, sustained emotion, something classical music achieves more fully than any other art form.

Among the eight wonderful, convincing soloists soprano Ellie Dehn stood out, her full lyric soprano voice showing sizable sound as well as tenderness. I was concerned the chorus of approximately 200 singers would not be large enough to balance the orchestral sound. I need not have worried. While this combination of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and the Master Singers was not as nimble nor as subtle as the MSC on its own, there was plenty of heft and a brilliant sheen to the tone.

Friday evening was not a perfect performance, but the sweep of it carried any small inadequacies. With a large number of additional musicians, it's not surprising that the orchestra did not always have its characteristic MSO sound in wind heavy sections. Tuning was troubled a few times in the brass, and small points of ensemble were apparent here and there, all undoubtedly due to players not accustomed to working with Delfs or together as sections. These are small quibbles.

Besides a charged performance of dramatic music with gigantic climaxes, emotion was thick and palpable in the audience that obviously loves this conductor. Delfs rose to the occasion, focusing all the power of this complex score and the swan song situation into the performance.

Viel Glueck, Andreas. May the road rise to meet you.