By Lawrence Budmen

Champagne flowed in the lobby of Miami Beachís Lincoln Theater as the New World Symphony offered a properly festive opening to its 20th anniversary season. For two decades, the orchestral academy has populated orchestras across the globe with its alumni, a tribute to the first rate musicians the ensemble continually attracts. 

The indefatigable Michael Tilson Thomas opened the evening with a cogent, vigorous reading of Richard Straussí Don Juan. This tone poem can sometimes seem episodic or incoherent. Not under Tilson Thomasí hyper intensive baton. Except for one wrong entry early on, the orchestra dazzled with sheer aural brilliance. A tonally resplendent oboe solo was breathtaking in its sheer beauty. The orchestraís fine horn section rang out the famous theme with resplendent sonority. Lush, incisive strings produced those wonderful Straussian timbres so unique to Central European orchestras. A capital opener all around!

That bravura superstar of the violin Gil Shaham did the solo honors in Mendelssohnís familiar Concerto in E minor. There was nothing humdrum about Shahamís wildly virtuosic traversal of this warhorse. From first bar to last, he brought glowing tone and vigor and flair to Mendelssohnís crystalline paragraphs. The Allegro molto vivace finale was fleet and light as a feather. But Shaham spun a cantabile line with ravishing sweetness in the Andante. Tilson Thomas highlighted Mendelssohnís elegant wind writing in a delicately shaded orchestral accompaniment.

The conductor pulled out the stops in a crisp, jazzy traversal of Leonard Bernsteinís 1944 ballet score Fancy Free. Bernstein never again quite encapsulated the wit and style in this winsome synthesis of showbiz razzle-dazzle and symphonic modernism. The New World Symphonyís glittering performance did full justice to Bernsteinís valentine to New York City. Tilson Thomas was particularly persuasive in the light hearted Latin rhythms of the Danzon variation. 

For an encore, Tilson Thomas gave the downbeat to Bernsteinís Overture to Candide; then left the stage for the orchestra to play it without a conductor. The gifted musiciansí luminous, festive performance was ample tribute to this ensembleís stellar standards and a celebratory hallelujah to open the organizationís second decade.

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