Omaha Symphony Presents “Festival of the Americas”


January 23rd, 2014

Omaha, NE — This weekend there’s not one, but two different concerts featuring music from the New World.


The Omaha Symphony hosts it’s second annual two-day music festival this Friday and Saturday. Titled “Festival of the Americas”, the event focuses primarily on music composed in the New World. Conductor Thomas Wilkins says that while it is very rewarding to present two different concert programs back-to-back, it is also very demanding.

“This year we were a little smarter,” Wilkins said. “We stretched out the rehearsal period over a larger window, because that is the first challenge is that there’s a lot of notes.”


Omaha Symphony Music Director Thomas Wilkins

The first night sports two main themes: music connected to Latin America, and music combining two or more diverse influences. For example, the performance opens with a selection American composer Aaron Copland wrote after a trip to Mexico.

‘El Salon Mexico’ came on an early visit from Copland, and it is actually named after this restaurant/bar, this nightclub, I guess, that Copland visited, and he loved the sounds that he heard.”

The man who conducted the premiere of “El Salon Mexico” was Carlos Chavez, whose “Sinfonia india” in next on the program. Wilkins points out that the music draws from both American Indian sources and Chavez’ own background and education.

“Even though there’s this Indian-tribal influence in the melodic material, the harmonic material is still this very Latin voice of Chavez.

Also on the program is the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquín Rodrigo, music from Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia”, and the “Bachianas brasileiras No. 5” by Villa-Lobos. Wilkins says in this work Villa-Lobos combines two very different musical styles.

“It’s a marriage of his love for Bach and his respect for Bach, as a lot of composers had, and his own voice as a Brazilian composer.”

Saturday night’s performance focuses on composers from the United States. Concertgoers will hear a montage of the northeast in William Schuman’s “New England Triptych.” The next work is “Honey and Rue” by pianist, conductor, and composer Andre Previn. Thomas Wilkins points out this music, with lyrics by Toni Morrison, is very moving, but like American culture, stylistically diverse.

“This is deeply personal music. It is music that is written from either a woman’s perspective or from an African-American experience perspective.”

Speaking of perspective, also on the program is Ferde Grofe’s epic “Grand Canyon Suite.” Maestro Wilkins says the composer truly captured the essence of the geography and landscape.

“We have the grandness of the Grand Canyon in this music; we have the stillness of the Grand Canyon in this music; and we have the awe of the Grand Canyon in this music.”

Wilkins chose this suite not just for its pictorial style, but also because while it was once very popular, it has all but disappeared from the concert hall.

“I would suspect that there are a lot of people who will hear this music – “Grand Canyon” – and be reminded of their childhood days if hearing it somewhere, and loving it when they heard it, so I’m glad to be able to bring it back.”

The Omaha Symphony presents its “Festival of the Americas” with “Music from Latin America” Friday, January 24, and “Music from the United States” on Saturday, January 25. Both concerts start at 8 pm in the Holland Center. For tickets and more information, you can visit

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