Ooh la la, c’est magnifique.  The Omaha Symphony’s MasterWorks series continues with the flavors of France. The Symphony presents Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis & Chloe” November 11th and 12th at 8:00 p.m. in the Holland Performing Arts Center. 

Alastair Willis is guest conducting the concert. He said “Daphnis & Chloe” is one of the greatest ballet scores ever. According to Willis, the final “danse generale” boasts four of the most exciting minutes in classical music.

“Orchestras love to play this piece, and audiences love listening to it. There is so much to enjoy, to savor, to feel,” Willis said.

Willis has an affinity for the French. His best friend is French, Paris is his favorite city and he speaks French. He said one of his favorite periods in musical history was the beginning of the 20th century when the Ballet Russes were resident in Paris. It may come as no surprise then, that the second half of the program features two contrasting ballets.

“There is Poulenc’s witty and delightfully saucy score, “Les Biches: Suite” and Ravel’s large-scale orchestrational genius, “Daphnis & Chloe,” he said.

Audiences attending the program can expect a mixture of French music.

Willis said the first half includes Honegger’s industrial-sounding train ride in “Pacific 231,” and the Germanic-influenced “Cello Concerto” by Eduard Lalo featuring an exciting performance from guest soloist, cellist Joshua Roman.

Lalo’s “Cello Concerto” is the first concerto Roman started learning when he graduated from the Suzuki Method many years ago. He said it was the first piece he ever played with a professional orchestra. At that time though, he only performed the first movement. This will be his first performance of the complete concerto with an orchestra. And he’s excited about it.

“As I am revisiting the piece, I’m discovering all sorts of things I didn’t notice the first time in this concerto. One thing I am really starting to appreciate about it is this real contrast in the characters of the piece, especially in the first movement. There is a contrast between an extremely macho character and then, maybe it’s the same character acting out in a different way, but there’s much more pleading and a sentimental quality to the contrasting theme. That is really interesting to explore because cello concertos are usually more heroic versus trying to be impressive,” Roman said.

For Roman, the sound and expressivity of the tone inherent in the cello has kept him interested in the instrument.

“When I was young I didn’t have many opportunities to see great artists in Oklahoma, but I did enjoy listening to music by Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler; Heifetz was like God when I was growing up. As I fell into listening to cello music, I began listening to Yo-Yo Ma and Janos Starker and Mstislav Rostropovich. They all made big impressions when I was growing up,” Roman said.

Roman has been hailed in Seattle as a “classical rock star,” a term he finds amusing. He said he hopes it represents a free spirit in terms of the type of audiences that are expected to show up in places he plays. He said he definitely loves classical music as there is no more exciting music as a cellist to play.

“But I am always open to exploration, especially in terms of venue and collaboration. Maybe it’s those qualities that make people think of rock and roll,” he said.

Roman encourages those attending the concert to come with an open mind because then the musicians can deliver something that may connect with them on a personal level.

“The music I’m playing is quite old but that doesn’t mean it’s not relevant today.  We go see art in museums and this is even more relevant because it’s being re-created. It’s an interpretation by people who are alive and breathing today. Music should have that same quality that allows for the real transformation of emotional states and offers a real experience and journey.”

Bon voyage.

Tickets for the Omaha Symphony’s MasterWorks performance of “Daphnis & Chloe,” featuring guest conductor Alastair Willis and guest soloist, cellist Joshua Roman, range from $15-$75. The Holland Center is located at 1200 Douglas Street. Call 345.0606 or visit ticketomaha.com.

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