By Peter Jacobi
The last of Indiana University’s large-scale symphonic ensembles, the University Orchestra, made its season debut on Sunday afternoon in the Musical Arts Center. It did so in praiseworthy fashion, guided by a veteran conductor, a guest, Michael Palmer, who proved capable of extracting mature performances from his young musicians.
Palmer has close to 40 years of experience as both music director and guest conductor with prestigious orchestras. He now also serves as Distinguished Professor of Orchestral Studies at Georgia State University. For his Jacobs School gig, he chose two major repertory pieces: Wagner’s Prelude and “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” and Brahms’ Symphony Number 1. The results were highly satisfying.
The Wagner became a journey into unbridled rapture, just as the composer, in his program notes, sought to convey: music meant to express “quenchless longing” and “hopeless love” and, in the death of the two lovers, “transcendent consummation of their passionate desire.” There was no holding back in Palmer’s approach, with the final climax exhibiting almost too much intensity. Exhilarating, however, it surely was.
Decibels were not spared as the conductor whipped the orchestra into persuasively voicing the noble grandeur with which Brahms ended his close-to-an-hour-long First Symphony. Prior to that, Palmer carefully constructed each movement of the score, to let every theme and development emerge spaciously and to cast light on the projected moods, whether that be lyrically embracing or dramatically compelling. In total, one heard an exciting and moving account. Palmer’s presence had an impact, and the University Orchestra acquitted itself impressively.
© Herald Times 2013