RELEASE: Omaha Symphony Bids the Maestro Farewell in Sold-Out Performance

Thomas Wilkins Leads the Omaha Symphony for the Final Time as Music Director
Branford Marsalis Performs John Williams’ Sensational Escapades for Alto Saxophone
Omaha Symphony Performs World Premiere of Michael Daugherty’s Lift Up Thine Ears

OMAHA, Neb., June 4, 2021—After 16 seasons as Music Director, Maestro Thomas Wilkins says a bittersweet goodbye to the orchestra and community he’s come to know and love during his tenure as artistic leader of the Omaha Symphony. His final concert is a celebration of the bonds built and the connections fostered by live orchestral music: between an orchestra and their community, between individual artists, and between musicians and their Maestro. It’s with this in mind that a slate of meaningful repertoire has been selected to mark this special occasion. The Omaha Symphony will present the World Premiere of a new work by American composer Michael Daugherty, a piece that was commissioned specially for this ensemble: Lift Up Thine Ears for Orchestra; next, the renowned saxophonist and close friend of Thomas Wilkins, Branford Marsalis, joins the orchestra in a performance of John Williams’ Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra; the concert ends in a gorgeous and iconic work celebrating the many facets of intimate friendship, Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 11 and Saturday, June 12 at the Holland Performing Arts Center Peter Kiewit Concert Hall.

“As far as final programs go, this one is a dream,” said Omaha Symphony Music Director Thomas Wilkins. “It was important to me not only to build this concert around the connections that have defined my career, but also to select works and invite collaborators who are deeply special to me personally. It’s a thrill to work with my good friend Branford Marsalis – I trust that Omaha will be blown away by his artistry. I’ve worked closely with my colleague and friend Michael Daugherty on the commission of Lift Up Thine Ears, and this World Premiere will be a true showcase for the artists and incredible humans that comprise this ensemble. And it seems only right to finish the program with Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a work that consists of loving musical portraits of the people most dear to him; to me, this concert is just that.”

Performance Details:

Friday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Holland Performing Arts Center Peter Kiewit Concert Hall

Thomas Wilkins, conductor
Branford Marsalis, alto saxophone

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Lift Up Thine Ears for Orchestra (World Premiere)

JOHN WILLIAMS: Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra

ELGAR: Enigma Variations

Commissioned by Thomas Wilkins and the Omaha Symphony in celebration of the orchestra’s 100th anniversary, Lift Up Thine Ears is a three-movement, 20-minute symphony about “how the human spirit can be uplifted by learning to listen with new ears.” Composer Michael Daugherty explains that each movement is based around a literary text: the first is a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a four-note musical motive inspired by the work’s dramatic words, “Lend me your ears;” the second gleans its title from Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” when he wrote “it rings in the ear,” a call-to-action and lamentation in response to his arrest; the third takes a turn of phrase from Emily Dickinson’s “The Spirit is the Conscious Ear,” which is a celebration of the energy and power of music.

The internationally renowned classical and jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis joins the orchestra for a performance of John Williams’ Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Williams wrote the score for Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me if You Can, a soundtrack saturated with jazzy elements from saxophone solo partnered with vibraphone, string bass, orchestral strings and piano. Described by the composer himself as having a “’60s swagger,” Escapades employs a progressive jazz style that nods to the great Charlie Parker. Marsalis will be joined by Omaha Symphony Principal Percussion Rob O’Brien and bassist James Giles, who will be featured prominently alongside the soloist.

The note of dedication listed on Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations score reads simply, “To my friends pictured within.” What began as a short theme that grew from Elgar’s noodling on a piano became a loving 30-minute portrait of the people in his life; the work’s fourteen movements contain portraits of Elgar’s most beloved colleagues and friends, his wife, musicians he admired, and even the acquaintances he cherished from his daily life. This is a work that is as timely and moving now as it was then; as we emerge from pandemic times and begin to gather safely with those close to us as well as those more peripheral, there is a collective sense of cherishing human bonds of all sorts. The sentiment of this work lends an uncanny parallel as Maestro Wilkins leads the Omaha Symphony for the last time as their Music Director, saying a bittersweet goodbye to close friends, colleagues and a community that has given unwavering support.

About Michael Daugherty

Multiple Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Daugherty was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1954. He is the son of a dance-band drummer and the oldest of five brothers, all professional musicians. Daugherty first came to international attention when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Zinman, performed his Metropolis Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1994. Since that time, Daugherty’s music has entered the orchestral, band and chamber music repertory and made him, according to the League of American Orchestras, one of the ten most performed American composers.

His orchestral music, recorded by Naxos over the last two decades, has received six Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2011 for Deus ex Machina for piano and orchestra and in 2017 for Tales of Hemingway for cello and orchestra.

As a young man, Daugherty studied composition with many of the preeminent composers of the 20th century including Pierre Boulez at IRCAM in Paris and Betsy Jolas at the Paris Conservatory (1979), Jacob Druckman, Earle Brown, Bernard Rands and Roger Reynolds at Yale (1980-82), and György Ligeti in Hamburg (1982-84). Daugherty was also an assistant to jazz arranger Gil Evans in New York from 1980-82.

After teaching composition for five years at Oberlin College, Daugherty joined the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance in 1991 as Professor of Composition, where he is a mentor to many of today’s most talented young composers. He is also a frequent guest of professional orchestras, festivals, universities and conservatories around the world.

Daugherty’s music is published by Michael Daugherty Music, Peermusic Classical and Boosey & Hawkes. For more information on Michael Daugherty and his music, see and his publisher’s websites.

About Branford Marsalis

Growing up in the rich environment of New Orleans as the oldest son of pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, Branford was drawn to music along with siblings Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason. A growing fascination with jazz as he entered college gave him the basic tools to obtain his first major jobs with trumpet legend Clark Terry and alongside Wynton in Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers. When the brothers left to form the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, the world of uncompromising acoustic jazz was invigorated. Branford formed his own quartet in 1986 – known for the telepathic communication among its uncommonly consistent personnel, its deep book of original music replete with expressive melodies and provocative forms, and an unrivaled spirit in both live and recorded performances, the Branford Marsalis Quartet has long been recognized as the standard to which other ensembles of its kind must be measured.

Branford has not confined his music to the quartet context, however. Classical music inhabits a growing portion of Branford’s musical universe. A frequent soloist with classical ensembles, Branford has become increasingly sought after as a featured soloist with such acclaimed orchestras as the Baton Rouge, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Düsseldorf, and North Carolina Symphonies, the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Pops, with a growing repertoire that includes compositions by John Adams, Debussy, Glazunov, Ibert, Mahler, Milhaud, Rorem, Vaughn Williams, and Villa-Lobos.

As for other public stages, Branford spent a period touring with Sting, collaborated with the Grateful Dead and Bruce Hornsby, served as Musical Director of The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno and hosted National Public Radio’s widely syndicated JazzSet. Broadway has also welcomed Branford’s contributions. His initial effort, original music for a revival of August Wilson’s Fences, garnered a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play and a Tony nomination for Best Original Score Written for the Theater.

He is the winner of three Grammy Awards and (together with his father and brothers) earned his citation as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

About Thomas Wilkins

Thomas Wilkins is celebrating his final season as music director of the Omaha Symphony, a position he has held since 2005. Additionally, he is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Boston Symphony’s artistic advisor for education and community engagement. He holds Indiana University’s Henry A. Upper Chair of Orchestral Conducting established by the late Barbara and David Jacobs as a part of that University’s “Matching the Promise Campaign.” Past positions have included resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony and Florida Orchestra (Tampa Bay), and associate conductor of the Richmond (VA) Symphony. He also has served on the music faculties of North Park University (Chicago), the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Devoted to promoting a life-long enthusiasm for music, Thomas Wilkins brings energy and commitment to audiences of all ages. He is hailed as a master at communicating and connecting with audiences. Following his highly successful first season with the Boston Symphony, the Boston Globe named him among the “Best People and Ideas of 2011.” In 2014, Wilkins received the prestigious “Outstanding Artist” award at the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Awards, for his significant contribution to music in the state, while in 2018 he received the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society conferred by Boston’s Longy School of Music. In 2019, the Virginia Symphony bestowed Thomas Wilkins with their annual Dreamer Award.

During his conducting career, he has led orchestras throughout the United States, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony, and the National Symphony. Additionally, he has guest conducted the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, the Symphonies of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, San Diego and Utah, and the Buffalo and Rochester Philharmonics, as well as at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago.

His commitment to community has been demonstrated by his participation on several boards of directors, including the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Charles Drew Health Center (Omaha), the Center Against Spouse Abuse in Tampa Bay, and the Museum of Fine Arts as well as the Academy Preparatory Center both in St. Petersburg, FL. Currently he serves as chairman of the board for the Raymond James Charitable Endowment Fund and as national ambassador for the non-profit World Pediatric Project headquartered in Richmond, VA, which provides children throughout Central America and the Caribbean with critical surgical and diagnostic care.

A native of Norfolk, VA, Thomas Wilkins is a graduate of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He and his wife, Sheri-Lee, are the proud parents of twin daughters, Erica and Nicole.

Ticketing Information

Tickets to Wilkins Finale: Branford, Daugherty, and Elgar are sold out.

Performance dates are subject to change. In the event of performance changes or cancellations, the Omaha Symphony will email ticket holders to inform them of new dates and ticketing options. Patrons with questions may email The Omaha Symphony also regularly posts performance updates at, along with the Omaha Symphony’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. Patrons can sign up for the latest updates at

Public Health Information

Performances at the Holland Performing Arts Center feature physically distanced seating. All patrons will be required to complete a health screening questionnaire prior to accessing their mobile tickets via the Ticket Omaha app. Masks are recommended for patrons at indoor Omaha Symphony performances. The following changes have been implemented within the venue:

  • Virus Filtering Heating and Cooling – Upgrades to air handling units includes bipolar ionization filtering out viruses through ventilation
  • Touchless Experience – Tickets are accessible via the Ticket Omaha app. Tickets can also be printed at Will Call. Program notes will be delivered digitally.
  • Enhanced Cleaning & Sanitation - Electrostatic technology disinfecting large common areas, enhanced sanitizing of high touch surfaces with hospital grade disinfectant and hand sanitizing stations throughout the venue
  • Staff Precautions – Staff and volunteers are required to complete a health screening upon entrance to the building and wear face masks.

Find the most up to date public health information at

This performance is sponsored by Omaha Steaks.

The Omaha Symphony is a non-profit organization that presents more than 100 live orchestral performances from September through June. In addition to Masterworks, Symphony Pops, Symphony Rocks, Movies, Symphony Joslyn, and Family series concerts, the Omaha Symphony’s nationally recognized education and community engagement programs touch the lives of more than 40,000 people each year. For tickets or information regarding the Omaha Symphony, call 402-345-0606 or visit Programs, artists, dates, times, prices, and availability are subject to change.