And and those words are an apt description of the stirring work, which runs some 23 minutes, tracing a symmetrical arc, from quiet, through frenetic and eruptive activity, back to quiet. Melody is everywhere, but it comes in fragments and wisps, fits, starts and cacophonous bursts.
The concertmaster — here, Sheryl Staples (in the absence of Frank Huang) — emerges from silence almost imperceptibly and in all innocence with a fetching little tune. The principal violist, Cynthia Phelps, eventually joins her, and they whisper across the podium until the other strings join in and overwhelm them.
The ending, after the fray, is truly touching. The principal oboist, Liang Wang, plays the work’s longest strain, Mr. Sorensen’s tribute to his father-in-law, an oboist who died in May before he could hear the work. Mr. Wang lingers on a high note, handing it off to Ms. Staples, who leads the strings on tiptoes back to silence.
The rest of the program was predictably solid on Thursday evening. There are few surer guarantees of quality in classical music than the combination of Mr. Ax and Mozart, and Mr. Ax offered his usual elegant, understated virtuosity.
The Brahms symphony proved a good showcase for Ms. Phelps and the rest of the orchestra’s superb low strings, and for Mr. Wang and his fine fellow woodwind principals. You might have wished for a little more animation at times, but Mr. de Waart and the players rose thrillingly to the end of the finale, one of Brahms’s rare rollicking moments.