Fort Worth — Two hundred years ago, three men living an age of unprecedented social and political turmoil produced a body of music that continues to resonate today. Saturday night at Bass Performance Hall, the Fort Worth Symphony and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya presented the second in a three-concert festival of the music of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn, successfully tackling the challenges and rewards of presenting that music in our own era of social and political turmoil.
The concert opened with the obligatory (in Fort Worth, at least) playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Though the bombastic patriotism of this particular piece sometimes jars with the subsequent music in Fort Worth Symphony concerts (and, one might point out, repetition has a dulling effect), in this case, the grand old song actually belongs to the same era as the three composers featured in the festival. (It’s also worth pointing out that a rising opening tune was a pretty standard motif in those days, and was reflected, and, in the case of Mozart, turned upside down, in the music of the main part of the concert.)
After that opening singalong, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra launched the concert with an excerpt of ballet music from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. The pit orchestra in Mozart’s day would have been considerably smaller than the ensemble of about 60 onstage for this concert, but the notably assertive, often moody music, with its bold descending opening motif (see above) moved quite comfortably into the realm of a modern orchestra and concert hall, while giving the audience a taste of Mozart most of us haven’t heard.
Haydn’s cello concertos, while not all that familiar, are certainly not unheard in modern orchestra concerts; No. 2 in D provided a wonderful showcase for the orchestra’s young (23 years old) principal cellist, Allan Steele, as well as a glimpse of a musical masterpiece of the first rank. Here, Haydn displays a full range of inventiveness, and, most strikingly, humor. Though often regarded as the third wheel of the classical-era triumvirate with Beethoven and Mozart, Haydn in this concerto achieves a level of intimate connection with the listener unmatched by his famous musical colleagues. The listener here senses, within the music—with its endless sly twists of harmony and melody, and always surprising decoration and variation—the presence of remarkable wit and intellect.
Cellist Steele produced an unfailingly entrancing performance, with a beautifully textured tone, and total command of the technical acrobatics Haydn demands here. Harth-Bedoya and an orchestra reduced to about thirty-five for this particular piece interacted with sensitivity and precision.
After intermission, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra returned for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C, written in the pivotal year of 1800. With the orchestra back at full classical-era force of about 60 (not quite the power-level of the orchestra for full-scale romantic or modern-era repertoire, but just right for this music), Harth-Bedoya delivered an aggressive reading looking forward into the 19th century rather than backward into the 18th, while showing off a polished ensemble that, in excellent form, betrayed none of the current offstage turbulence of extended, contentious contract negotiations.
It is both appropriate and ironic that this work, which changed the direction of music history, should appear in concert at a point in the cultural history of Fort Worth that may prove critical. Fort Worth, a city with a great cultural tradition and economic prosperity, has a clear option of supporting a superb orchestra with the sort of contract reflecting the excellence and obvious professional dedication of the musicians. Saturday’s concert only underlined the importance of enhancing, rather than decreasing, financial support for the musicians who provide this city with one of its greatest assets: a fine symphony orchestra.
» Our review of Concert 1 of this series
» Our review of Concert 3 of this series