The famous "too many notes" quip from Amadeus, the stage/film glamorization of the life of Mozart, was never as appropriate as it was Friday night at Fort Worth's Bass Hall.
The Fort Worth Symphony, under the direction of Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, offered a new work by composer-in-residence Jennifer Higdon, Concerto 4-3. It is a virtuoso tour de force commissioned and performed by the two violins and one string bass of smokin' hot young-turk trio, Time For Three. All five (composer, conductor and three soloists) are colleagues from the Curtis Institute, an über exclusive music school in Philadelphia (everyone attends on a full scholarship) and it certainly showed in a tight collaboration of extremely difficult music.
The three soloists (Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall, violins, and Ranaan Meyer, double bass) played from memory, quite a feat by itself in such a complex score. But it was more out of necessity than for show. None of them stopped playing for more than a few bars of orchestral tutti every now and then. It would have required at least another three on stage to turn the pages had the work not be memorized.
While the three soloists were busy playing impossibly fast, they made a kaleidoscope of sounds from beautiful to downright strange; everything but the kitchen sink. Actually, the bass made a sound much like a kitchen sink, finally relived of a particularly stubborn clog, so even that overused metaphor must be jettisoned. It was all very exciting. From bluegrass to Bartok, from funky town to uptown, from pool hall to Carnegie Hall—it was all there in a musical stew served up with wink and a cloud of rosin dust.
The three young soloists are as interesting to watch as to hear. One of the violinists is tall and very blond while the other is shorter and dark. Both are physically involved with the music on an elemental level, unlike the overly dramatic machinations of some other soloists that pop to mind. They never took their eyes off one another for an instant. The bass player, in the middle and obviously more drenched in jazz than his colleagues, weaved behind his instrument like a snake charmer’s harmless serpent. Harth-Bedoya gamely kept right with them every pell-mell step of the way, although it was fortunate that the instruments were amplified since any attempt at balance was left at the starting gate.
The work is cast in three movements with an unnecessary cadenza between movements one and two—it was just more of the same. While the second movement offered up some lyrical movements, this piece is on a caffeine jag from start to finish. The orchestra, counting like crazy, was secondary—almost superfluous to the jaw-dropping musical acrobatics and weird sounds assigned to the trio by the composer. One particularly arresting section of artificial harmonics sounded just like a mewing basket of new born kittens. It was a sonic trip from start to finish.
Go hear it. You will be sorry if you don’t.
The Higdon should have closed the program because after this bracing display of fireworks, a warhorse like the Dvorák Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" didn’t have a chance. Everyone on stage and in the audience was rightfully both exhausted and exhilarated from the psychedelic exertions of the Higdon. Gilded-age Bohemian Americana is almost impossible to inflate.
Harth-Bedoya did his best to bring the piece to life, although he seemed to tire in the return of the Scherzo. (Perhaps repeating exposition was not the best idea under the circumstances.) However, he did a much more workmanlike job than he did with the Brahms in his last outing. He was technically right on all the way through. Gone was the soupçon of show and back was a clear beat that even clearly subdivided when needed by the players. As a result, the ensemble of the orchestra was, in general, noticeably better than last month. Some attacks still suffered, especially in the opening of the second movement, but most were vastly improved. Intonation in the winds and brass remains troublesome, right from the first horn note on. However, lovely solos from the principals here and there, especially the clarinet, shows that the orchestra has fine players. As the season progresses, this pitch peccadillo should vanish.
The concert repeats on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. At these two concerts, another work that was not played on Friday, a shorter piece by Jennifer Higdon titled Machine, opens the program.