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Every guest conductor that takes the Symphony Hall stage brings his or her own personality to the evening’s program, and it’s rewarding to see how these conductors impact the musicians. The opening piece of the evening, the quick and effervescent “Overture di Ballo” by Arthur Sullivan, showed Kalmar to be a joyful and dynamic conductor – he bounced while conducting with big, swooping movements, marking the beat with his entire body; he smiled at the orchestra, encouraging the musicians. In response, the ASO gave the triumphant opener a sunny buoyancy rendered through tight, focused playing.
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After intermission, the orchestra and Kalmar created a magnificent version of Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. Schumann’s work opens with a difficult melody for the horns, backed by plaintive strings, turning into a quiet, introspective composition that alternates sorrow with animated fury. After a frenzied, hectic second movement, played with agility by shimmering strings, the music turned on a dime, becoming achingly sorrowful and introspective. The ASO handled this quick change well, settling immediately into these emotional peaks and valleys.
Kalmar has led the Oregon Symphony in Portland for the past 16 seasons, and it's a joy to hear him make the trip East to lead the ASO for the second time. While the engaging and skillful Kanneh-Mason got the crowd in its seats (the ASO added a Friday night concert after the first two offerings quickly sold out, and that performance has since sold out as well), Kalmar gave an added depth and splendor to the evening.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Carlos Kalmar and Sheku Kanneh-Mason
8 p.m. April 25. Additional performances at 8 p.m. April 26 and 27. Sold out. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, atlantasymphony.org.