The Amarillo Symphony inaugurated its 95th season with a world premier, and three roughly contemporaneous European works whose further connection is a matter of conjecture. Maestro Jacomo Bairos conducted.
Chris Rogerson, currently on the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, as well as advisor to Amarillo Symphony, was its former composer-in-residence. His impressive list of commissions include major symphonies as well as well-known ensembles. In addition, he boasts quite a pedigree of pedagogues, including Jennifer Higdon and Michael Tilson-Thomas.
The Symphony appropriately heralded the evening’s program with Fanfare, a short, but attention grabbing work announced by brass bravura. It does remind one of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which remains popular. May Rogerson’s work do likewise, but we can always say, ‘We heard it first!’
The second work, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, was written in 1878, at Lake Geneva while the composer was recovering from a disastrous marriage. The aerobic virtuosity required by the soloist, as well as the work’s inherent Slavic bias forestalled its premier until 1881, when it received mixed reviews. Now it is one of the Russian’s most played works.
The soloist for this work, Jennifer Koh, definitely moved the needle on the voltmeter. Most visibly, her coiffure literally vibrated from the frenetic energy of her performance. Her input only enhanced the emotional roller-coaster that attends this piece, leaving an appreciative audience in awe. Besides the prolonged standing ovation, Ms. Koh certainly earned a cheeseburger for her exertions!
The third work of the evening was Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon o f a Faun. Again, the perceived conservatism of this area belies the courageous embrace of the arts, irrespective of content.
Though the music premiered in the 1890’s, portraying Mallarme’s poem which celebrated unhindered sexuality, the cultural counter remains relevant.
The orchestra responded to the interpretive dynamics of Maestro Bairos to engage the audience in an aural rainbow. The interplay of woodwinds, especially, created a tension and soundscape worthy of Debussy aficionados anywhere on the planet.
Finally, who was the greatest Russian composer? Why Alexander Scriabin. Just ask him.
Like Einstein, attempting to resolve a unified field theory, Scriabin, with psychotic hubris, proposed a grand musical work to provide the listener with total cosmic comprehension. Messianically, towards that end he composed the Poem of Ecstasy.
A major characteristic of this work is a lack of tonal resolution aligned with an arrhythmia which corresponds to the Genesis description of creation without form and void.
Two dynamic resolutions exist, which leave the work open to various interpretations, ranging from the sexual to the spiritual. Needless to say, it ain’t dull!
It’s hard to find a common thread twixt these last three works unless one goes baseline and primal. Perhaps it’s just the fact that all three could be called contemporaries.
Regardless, the Amarillo audience was able to judge this music on its own merits, which were impactful and transporting, and in one instance, a world premier.
Congratulations to the conductor for his choices, and to all of the performers for stepping up to the musical plate.
Works of this quality, right here in Cowboy Country, are one reason we can proudly say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”