A full house gathered at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on October 12 to enjoy a combined concert of both Chamber Music Amarillo and Friends of Aeolian Skinner Organ society, which featured a world premier, one of the world’s finest performance organs, and, so the audience felt, a world-class performance!
A world premier, Towards the South Plains, by Harlan Hodges, albeit in abbreviated form, thrilled attendees. In addition, church organist Rick Land performed two Handel concertos and the Amarillo Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra played Sir Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings. All of this right here in Cowboy Country!
Though purists tout Bach as the father of the performance organ, more contemporary critics extol the virtues of George Frideric Handel regarding his contributions to the instrument.
But Handel had what, by comparison, was only the most basic manual instrument on which to perform, a pale flame compared to the blue-white splendor of the 1024.
Rick Land demonstrated his talent as well as the capacity of the Aeolian-Skinner in two works: Concerto in b-flat major; Concerto in d minor. In the latter work, the composer encouraged organo ad libitum allowing the performer to free-style. And, in both selections, Rick Land pulled out all of the stops which vibrated the arches of St. Andrews Neo-Romanesque arches.
Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro was written in 1905 and premiered at an all-Elgar concert to showcase the artistry of the strings of the newly-formed London Symphony Orchestra. It comes as no surprise that the Amarillo Virtuosi played this work with facility and grace.
In the Moderato, a solo viola sings a tune, replicating a song the composer once heard in Wales. You know, the Welsh and their songs. The audience then heard, in the Allegro and the Allegro and Fugue sections, intertwining themes which build in intensity, with a solo violin restating the Welsh melody.
This is a rich piece of music, which, coming at the end of the program, was like an extra layer of icing on a German Chocolate Cake.
The occasion of the featured work is the essence of serendipity. The composer contacted David Palmer, artistic director of Chamber Music Amarillo, about premiering a work requiring chorus and a large orchestra. What David could ultimately offer was the orchestral capacity of the 1024, so Journey Toward the South Plains had its awakening.
In the words of the composer, this work is a journey of body and spirit, a literal and figurative journey home which took place in February, 2016. What follows, as illustrated in the music, includes the life cycle of water, cycles of the moon, the transmigration of a soul, the stages of grief and the ever-constant presence of change in our lives.
In the words of this listener, JTTSP was a transcendent tone poem on the plains. In the words of another, this was more spiritual than anything she’d heard in church! And, though geographically the title designated the South Plains, the sound was pure Panhandle.
And the chorus: young adolescent to young adult, singing confidently in several tones and tongues! Credit Elizabeth Manfredi for prepping her Bonham Middle Schoolers like seasoned professionals.
And the music was both powerful and impactful, and, for those who live on the plans, a sonic depiction of the land we tread and the air we breathe. Even the work’s dramatic dynamics are imminently relatable to life’s abrupt changes in these parts: witness the recent January weather in October.
A bassoon duet especially stood out in the score. More accurately, this was a sustained soliloquy, which seemed continuous, without perceptible breath breaks!
A world premier, Handel organ concerti, and Elgar: a rich cultural combination was offered up to an audience out here on the Texas high plains. Our thanks go to Harlan Hodges, Rick Land and Dr. Mark Bartley, and special thanks to David Palmer and St. Andrews Episcopal Church.
Their efforts make it easy to say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”