The Omaha Symphony begins a year-long Leonard Bernstein celebration this month in his centennial year, kicking off with his dance music and that of Aaron Copland in a fresh take on that American composer’s legendary “Appalachian Spring.”Performing the ballet with the Orchestra is Indianapolis-based Dance Kaleidoscope. In its 46th season, it reaches back in time to 1943 and the debut of this famed work using Martha Graham’s original choreography, dressed in the original costumes on the original set. The score is one of the first- ever-heard restorations of Copland’s original one as played by a full orchestra.

“It had to do with the pioneer American spirit, youth, optimism, hope,” Graham said, in “a legend of American living…not just any Spring but the Spring of America” The setting is a pioneer celebration in the Pennsylvania hills around a newly-built farmhouse. The score was originally played by a 13-member chamber orchestra; the expansion for a full one garnered a Pulitzer. Ground-breaking.

Next, the spirit of dance permeates Duke Ellington’s “Harlem,” although it was not written to be staged. Ellington wrote it for his own orchestra in 1950 as “A Tone Parallel to Harlem,” summoning up aural images of a parade, a funeral and celebrations calling forth the soul of Black America in that pulsing place in Manhattan. Expect the blues. Expect much more. The full Omaha Symphony takes it on.

As for Bernstein’s dynamic part of this concert, it too has elements for the stage. The music in “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story” jumps, floats and swirls in a re-working of the score of the famed 1957 Broadway legend. The dances are 1961 orchestrations for the movie version which won Oscars for Irwin Kostal and Sid Ramin. 

With Thomas Wilkins on the stand, experience the soul of America. 

This Omaha Symphony Masterworks concert is January 26 and 27, Kiewit Hall, Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St. Fri. & Sat.  7:30 p.m.  Tickets: $19-$79.

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