Fort Worth — Sunday afternoon at Bass Performance Hall, a deeply moving and sometimes radiant rendition of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms opened the final concert of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s three-day Bernstein Centennial under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
Broadway idioms, hints of traditional Jewish melody, and a largely romantic harmonic language come together in this setting of ancient Hebrew Psalm texts, reaching across millennia with a message of joy, comfort, and hope for universal peace. The chorus, combining local singers and the Southwestern Adventist University Singers and trained by chorus master Martiza Carceres, performed with smooth efficiency. Boy soprano Miles Baker, accompanied by harp alone, performed with beautifully smooth tone and command of the Hebrew text in the liltingly serene setting of the beloved Twenty-Third Psalm that is the heart of the piece. As in the previous concerts of the three-day festival, conductor Harth-Bedoya demonstrated adept insight into this favorite American composer.
The focus on vocal music of Bernstein turned in an entirely secular direction after intermission. Baritone Michael Adams, a Fort Worth native, son of Fort Worth Symphony flutist Pam Adams, and Texas Christian University graduate who is now enjoying a prominent operatic career, joined with mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, who returned after a memorable performance of the solo in Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony on Friday night, for excerpts from Broadway, the opera Trouble in Tahiti, and Bernstein’s serious-but-tongue-in-cheek cycle Arias and Barcarolles. Jonathen Blue and Robert Drapiza contributed delightful cameo performances as two mischievous youngsters in the final movement of this cycle.
Both O’Connor and Adams own richly textured voices, and their dramatic interaction was visually obvious. Adams, complete with the requisite artificial limb, relished the role of an evil but oddly envious pirate in “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy” (written for but eventually cut from a Broadway production of Peter Pan in 1950); O’Connor showed a gift for humor in Bernstein’s loving parody of romantic mid-century adventure movies in “What a Movie” from Trouble in Tahiti, after which Adams swaggered through the multi-layered critique of American machismo in “There’s a Law About Men” from the same work. The two joined for the final number on the official program, “I am Easily Assimilated” from Candide.
However, the whole “secular” section, in which the words were absolutely essential, suffered in that about 80 percent of the words were incomprehensible. The fault lay not with the singers, however, who clearly knew what they were doing, and who were by no means shy of consonants. Given that this music was written to be performed with singers on stage above a Broadway pit orchestra, the full symphony behind them drowned out most of their words. This situation could have been partially alleviated with printed texts, and would have been even further and completely avoided with projected captions, as is almost always done for operas and large-scale works in Bass Performance Hall (and virtually every major performance venue in America today). A printed text and translation of Chichester Psalms was provided in the program, but a projected translation would have enhanced that performance as well, allowing the audience to absorb the words and music simultaneously.
The Overture to Candide provided a cheerful encore, with, however, some disappointingly sloppy passage work from the strings.
In spite of logistical issues in the final concert, the three-day Festival proved a satisfying opening for the region’s classical music season. And Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra made a strong case for Bernstein (always highly admired as a conductor, and at times immensely successful as a composer for Broadway) as the creator of a remarkable body of serious concert music.
» Read our appreciation of Bernstein and a look at some of the DFW concerts planned in the centenary celebration; and read our interview with mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor here. Look for reviews of Saturday and Sunday's concerts on TheaterJones.