In its last concert of the season, the Oregon Symphony flexed its brassy muscles to play two complex and gorgeous pieces, both of which had never been performed before by this orchestra. The program began with Arnold Schoenberg's inventive and engaging arrangement of J. S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major (a.k.a. "St. Anne"). Schoenberg, known for his unlikable 12-tone music, took Bach's organ piece and delightfully distributed it throughout the orchestra. The Oregon Symphony gave a richly textured interpretation that sparkled, especially in the woodwind and brass sections, which are prominent in this composition.
The big piece of the evening was Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 7, a work in which a hundred instrumentalists take you on a musical journey over emotional landscapes that range from extreme melancholy to ecstatically joyous. There are passages where you think that Conductor Carlos Kalmar and the orchestra have steered you into a narrow back alley in Vienna with a couple of drunks and then you're suddenly in the bright sunshine of an open meadow and birds are chirping. This doesn't leave you with a headache, but with a revelation that you can climb out of the depths.
Overall, the performance I heard on Sunday evening was not flawless but was inspired and beautiful. The brass sections of the orchestra deserve special kudos, and the audience responded to the triumphant final chords with an enthusiastic standing ovation.