Fort Worth — After a year and a half of bitter contract negotiation and a four-month strike, two cheerful works and a longtime audience favorite brought the Fort Worth Symphony back onstage at Bass Performance Hall Friday night for the first classical concert of 2017.
Ironically, because of quirks in scheduling, music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya wasn’t onstage for this happy reunion of orchestra and audience; in keeping with an agenda set long before the strike, Austrian-born David Danzmayr served as guest conductor.
Although all three of the works on the program certainly belong in the concert hall—any listener could head out into the dreary winter night with a sense of having heard some great music—this triptych of romantic and twentieth-century leaned a little more in the direction of coddling the audience instead offering intellectual food for thought.
The curtain-raiser, Johann Strauss, Jr.’s “Roses from the South” waltz, is more apt to show up on a pops or park concert than a classical event. Conductor Danzmayr here displayed an overly showy presence—he at times seemed to be trying out for a cheerleading squad in his gesticulations—that was both imprecise and distracting. Still, the audience member who listened without watching the conductor’s antics could simply enjoy the gorgeous melodies and skillful orchestration. (The more pessimistic among us might observe that this light-hearted artifact of an affluent society on the verge of collapse has its parallels in our own precarious consumer culture.)
Next up, American composer Walter Piston’s Suite from The Incredible Flutist, created for Arthur Fiedler’s quasi-high-brow pops scene in Boston in 193x, provided an apt representative of the mid-twentieth-century American style. Despite continued physical antics, conductor Danzmayr successfully shaped these twelve very short but uniformly engaging movements into a convincing unified structure. Guest flutist Les Roettges performed the central solo with a solid and expressive tone; members of the orchestra, along with an excellent rendition of the music, provided (as designated in the score) the crowd noise for the “Circus March” movement.
Unassailable as a symphonic masterpiece, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (Pathétique) deserves its place in the repertoire and in the hearts of audience members; given that the orchestra has been largely inactive for 16 weeks, it was fortunate that their return concert featured a work that most of these musicians could play in their sleep. Danzmayr demonstrated impressive command of the work’s structure and momentum; interestingly, while many conductors choose a direct segue between the third and fourth movement, Danzmayr allowed a distinct break, resulting, inevitably, in applause before the wrenching finale. Equally intriguingly, he held the audience and orchestra silent for what seemed almost half a minute (a very long time on a concert stage) after the last notes died away at the end.
While one might wish for a little broader range of repertoire and more concise leadership from the conductor in this concert, it’s definitely good to have this orchestra back in business. For that, we can thank one anonymous donor whose gift financed the final contract settlement, as well as the musicians themselves, who bravely and in the face of unsympathetic and uninformed criticism from some quarters insisted on the necessity of professional compensation and treatment of professional musicians. For now, the professional classical music scene in Fort Worth has been rescued, but the necessity for wiser stewardship of this invaluable community asset is clearly obvious.