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the omaha symphony • legacy of sounds

(page 3 of 4)

One of the more intriguing symphony performances this month is the April 8, 9 & 10 run of Rodgers & Hammerstein: At the Movies. Think here of what we might call “reverse karaoke.” Remastered clips and original vocals from the classic movie musicals of Rodgers & Hammerstein are the backdrop on a screen the size of South Pacific’s volcanic Bali Hai. The symphony, in turn, provides the live soundtrack. Scenes and songs from such other favorites as The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, The King and I and Carousel will be a movable feast for your eyes, ears, and heart.

“We’re a very versatile ensemble,” said Thomas Wilkins, the popular music director who joined the organization in 2005, the same year it moved into the Holland Performing Arts Center. “That we are clearly capable of playing Beethoven one week and Rodgers & Hammerstein the next is more than just fun and challenging for our people, but it means that no audience is left behind,” when it comes to appealing to both young professionals and baby boomers alike.

Wilkins is more than just a toe-tapper who rose from the housing projects of Norfolk, Va. He’s one of Omaha’s most influential cultural ambassadors.

Also the principal guest conductor of the famed Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony, the father of twin girls is a much-in-demand artist who criss-crosses America from one high profile gig to the next.


“My friends around the country and people who come to Omaha are always surprised at what we get done here,” Wilkins said from a rehearsal in Boston, where he was recently named conductor of the Boston Symphony’s Youth and Family Concert Series. “We take pride in being a part of that, just like we take pride in the Joslyn Art Museum, Saddle Creek Records or the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. That’s one of the best measures of a strong cultural landscape - when all genres in all endeavors thrive,” he said of Omaha’s eclectically broad, deep and “big city” arts vibe.

“I talk about this all the time with the orchestra, this idea that we need to remain a big part of the ‘cutting edgeness’ that makes Omaha such a vibrant city,” said the man who will return to Boston in June for appearances with the legendary Boston Pops series.

Any drawbacks to a life racking up frequent flier miles?

“I’ve become something of a luggage addict,” he chuckled when speaking of a collection that includes everything from a tux-and-toothbrush overnighter to more voluminous pieces, ones better suited to multi-city bouncing that keeps a tempo akin to that of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

“Keep walking, Daddy, just keep walking,” one daughter will tease whenever they pass a luggage store on their many travels. “Avert your eyes!” chimes in her doppelganger, “Avert your eyes!”

“When I am playing, it’s like I’m the only one in the room,” said Madalyn Grabow. “It’s just me, my violin and that beautiful music.”

Even though she has a decidedly poetic grasp on the transcendent powers of great music, Grabow is not yet a member of the Omaha Symphony.


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