Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony opened its new season on Friday evening with a long concert. Admittedly, much of the overtime was caused by an interesting video about Musical Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, celebrating his 15th year on the podium. Another delayer was an overly long encore played by the three soloists after their performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.
We always expect FWSO concerts to start late, what with a performance of our National Anthem starting all of them. Many orchestras play this at the beginning of the season, but the FWSO plays it before every concert. It is a bit much, but part of the fun of it is the way the audience sings with such gusto. The high note near the end, which defeats most of us, is a specialty of many a warbly soprano and the note, sung tutta forza, rings in the hall long after the conductor’s cut off.
Another aspect of the FWSO that is unique is the laudable appointment of a composer-in-residence for the season. The British composer Anna Clyne is this year’s choice and Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya introduced her with her piece «rewind«. Clyne said that watching an analog reel-to-reel tape recorder rewind inspired it. Fortunately, some of the symphony audience is old enough to remember what that looked like, but any younger folks were mystified. You couldn’t see this effect with cassettes, which followed the reel-to-reel, because except for a slit of a window this action was hidden on the inside of the plastic doodad.
«rewind« was originally written for a dance company and that energy comes through (a video of the New World Symphony performing it is below). It is a piece of animated minimalism that constantly percolates on the pitch of a “d” (“re”) throughout. This is one note too low for the basses, so they either had to tune down or use their extensions to lower the bottom string. It sounds wonderfully deep.
Groans, grunts and fragmented melodic materials rise and fall over the full-boil texture. Some scraping sound near the end left us mystified as to how it was produced (I hope it was intentional). «rewind« has a duration time of eight minutes, which is about the right time span for a piece like this. It was well received by the audience.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is a work for orchestra with violin, cello and piano soloists. It is certainly not one of Beethoven’s best efforts but is pleasant enough. The unusual use to the solo trio also makes it attractive to program. Research turned up about 30 works for the combination written by composers that range from barely known to completely unknown. The Beethoven is the only standard.
The most striking aspect of Beethoven’s concerto is the uncanny resemblance of the big soaring theme in the first movement to music the composer was writing for his opera, Fidelio, at the same time. Perhaps he couldn’t find a place for it in the opera, but it wouldn’t have been out of place as an aria for one of the characters.
Other thematic materials are not as satisfying. The second movement is lovely but is really just an extended introduction to the last movement. Most of the music settles for tedious trips up and down scales—not the most interesting music to hear.
The three soloists, concertmaster Michael Shih, cellist Claudio Bohórquez and pianist Katia Skanavi, did their best to bring the piece to life. The violin and cello get the best music and both artists played with a beautiful sound and clean technique. Skanavi sat and turned pages for long stretches, but was excellent when finally called upon.
They played an encore, without which we could have lived. It was the last movement of Beethoven’s Op. 11 Piano Trio (Glassenhauer). Something fast and zippy (and short) would have worked better.
Moment of Geek: It is called the Gassenhauer after a tune Beethoven used for the variations in another movement. It was from an insignificant operetta, but the tune was popular with the public. Gassenhauer is best translated as “ear worm,” or a tune (a so-called hook) that gets stuck in your mind. Glassen is the name used for the streets and alleys at the time and hauern means to hum.
Like the encore being described, this whole discussion has gone on too long. Moving on.
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is deservedly on many “most performed” lists. It is tuneful and exciting. The brass opening represents the inescapable force of fate, which was a negative thing to the composer. However, there is little of the melancholy of his future symphonies, let alone the suicidal descent of the sixth, which sinks into the morass of depression.
Harth-Bedoya, his earlier podium excesses now a distant memory, was masterful from the very first fanfare. Conducting without a score, it was obvious that he had a good idea about how each phrase should go. He indicated that where it was needed and let the musicians play when his involvement was not needed. The orchestra responded in kind and delivered an excellent performance.
Of course, this is a symphony that orchestral players have played since high school, which makes orchestral cohesion a given. But it also means that all of the solo players gave mature and thoughtful performances. Two instruments that we don’t hear as soloists all that often, bassoon (Kevin Hall) and piccolo (Pam Holland Adams), greatly impressed. Hall’s long phrases, without catch breaths, made his performance exceptional. But all the solo chairs had their chance to shine and all were terrific. The sections where the composer wrote for a wind band were right in tune and the string pizzicato precise.
Harth-Bedoya set tempi that some might question, but he made them work. The scherzo could not go faster and still be playable. As it was, fingers were flying as the strings sweated the pizzicato. But it was impressive to hear.
Best of all, dynamics were layered and the big moment appropriately came at the end.
This concert bodes well for the season: a work by the composer-in-residence, a rarely performed work by Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky’s much loved warhorse. Something for everyone.
» Cover photo of Anna Clyne by Javier Oddo
» Here's a video of the New World Symphony playing Anna Clyne's «rewind«