José Luis Gomez danced, slid, crouched, bowed and sometimes stood still behind his new custom-made podium at the Tucson Music Hall Friday night.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra conductor was mesmerizing to watch as he coaxed sublime music from the musicians in the opening concert of his inaugural season.
The program opened with “Margariteña,” by Gomez’s fellow countryman, Venezuelan composer Inocente Carreño. The composition’s leitmotif is the song “Margarita es una lagrima,” and you can practically smell the sea and feel the rhythms of the island, Margarita, where the composer was born. This 1954 piece, which pulls from popular Venezuelan tunes, begins softly and builds to an electrifying end. This was a first for this orchestra, and they embraced all the color and life in it.
Pianist Zhang Zuo followed with Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major. Zuo’s elegant and well-articulated phrasing flirted with the orchestra, which flirted right back. With the last note, the audience jumped to its feet, and the prolonged applause persuaded her to do an encore. She attacked Liszt’s energetic “La Campanella” with a joy that was contagious.
The second half was taken up by Mahler’s exciting Symphony No. 1 in D major, “Titan.”
It opens ethereally, and the violins almost shimmered as they softly played a seven-octave-spread A. It’s always a breathtaking surprise when that gentle sound is abandoned for a movement rich with cellos and basses — they offer a rousing contrast to the opening. The third movement opens with the double-bass and slows down to a funeral march with the children’s song “Frere Jacques” woven throughout. The final movement practically roars with the crashing of trumpets and trombones. Mahler called it “the cry of the human heart,” and TSO instilled it with all the fury and passion it called for.
There was passion, too, in Gomez’s conducting. That bodes well for a thrilling tenure under his baton.
The concert repeats at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. For tickets and details, visit tucsonsymphony.org