The WTAMU Symphony Orchestra presented its spring term concert on Feb. 24 at the Northern Recital Hall.
It goes without saying that the mature artistry of the young musicians was magnificent!
The program, entitled Fables and Lore, was equally memorable for its selections: two Americans; one Italian and one Chinese composer. Two of the works came from the 19th century, and one each from the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, two of the four composers wrote film scores.
The concert began with the Allegro from the Sonata for Piano Duet and String Quartet by Jerome Moross, best-known for writing the music for sixteen films, most famously Big Country.
It’s no wonder that the entire work had a soundtracky vibe: very peppy and upbeat, and, without question, an American sound.
From filmscores to Italian opera, the orchestra, under the baton of of graduate student Stephanie Littlejohn, played the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. This short, evocative work seems to reflect tender, emotional musings where distance in time and space conjure longing, not pain.
The featured work was Contrabass Concerto: Wolf Totem created by the Chinese composer Tan Dun in 2014. Dun, like Moross wrote music for films like Crouching Tiger…., and this piece showcases the talent of Associate Professor Nicholas Scales on the double bass.
In this work Dun takes the listener beyond the Great Wall to the steppes of Mongolia where the endless sky is divinity, divinity that is manifest in the sacred wolf.
Throughout the piece, Nick’s double bass variously evoked the sounds of the landscape’s infinity, the howl of the wolf, the thunder of horses hooves, and the climactic importuning of grace for the land, the wolf and the human spirit.
And, for much of the work, Nick’s bass sounded like the horsehead fiddle played by the people who live in felt tents.
As one who has traveled extensively in Mongolia, I would rate Maestro Scales superior to the Mongol masters of the instrument, and, with the addition of perhaps throat-singing or long-song, suggest that he arrange bookings in Ulan Bator, but not in winter!
Nick then treated the audience to an encore by Francoise Rabbath entitled Espana. The composer is arguably the world’s premier double-bass pedagogue, known for his technique of pivoting. Nick’s performance, all finger work, credits the artistic vision of Rabbath.
The concert was book-ended by American composers with the final number the 1894 Allegro di molto from Symphony No. 2 (Gaelic) by Amy Beach. This work was the first symphony by an American woman, also one of the first composers on this side of the pond to have no European training.
The movement opens powerfully, and sustains its impetus like an advancing army. Anyone looking for a soft, feminine touch in this confident work will meet disappointment.
What a splendid performance by the WTAMU Symphony, such judicious selections by Dr. Mark Bartley and such supreme artistry by Dr. Nicholas Scales!
All of the above is a major reason we can say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”