January 2, 2020: Top Ten for 2019 #5-#1

Grand Prize Winner
AMOA’s Biennial 600

The #5 spot belongs to the Amarillo Museum of Art and the exhibition entitled Biennial 600, a juried occasion held every two years and open to artists within a 600 mile radius of Amarillo.

The theme this year was Textiles + Fibers and prompted hundreds of submissions as it explored how textiles move from the utilitarian to the conceptual.

This was a compelling show, which emphasized the transformational potential realized by imagining the creative inherent in the common. Thanks to director Alex Gregory as well as the staff and artists for putting together a show worth multiple visits.

The Division of Dance, the University Chorale and the WTAMU Symphony Orchestra collaborated to stage Carl Orff’s iconic Carmina Burana, which stands as unique in my half century of experiencing the work. This was sufficient to garner the #4 position in the Top 10 countdown.

This work, inspired by poems and letters written by male university students in the Middle Ages, reflect static male attitudes which over the centuries are anything but academic, often garnering the piece an R rating from moralists.

The Medieval Latin and German posed no problem for the chorale, and the orchestra was spot on in the pulsing score. Dry ice fog served as a filter for O Fortuna while In Taberna Quando Sumis six female dancers offered convincing portrayals of terpsechorean inebriation. And, lines of male and female singers came to stage front to antiphonally yet flirtatiously dialogue Veni, Veni, Venias.

Finally, two of the soloists stood out. Tenor Matt Oglesby dished up a superb rendering of a roasting swain in Olim lacus colueram, while colleague Sarah Beckham-Turner hit Dulcissime, one source for the R rating, with ease and conviction, a high bar often missed by sopranos in performance.

Dr. Mark Bartley, the conductor of the orchestra, revealed that this production wanted to offer something more than sit-and-play and stand-and-sing. It did, to the bona fortuna of the audience.

Duo Miroirs
Piano Series
Amarillo College

Two concert/recitals in the same location win the #3 place. The Amarillo College Piano Series, arranged by Dr. Diego Caetano, AC Professor of Music, brings a sequence of internationally-acclaimed pianists to the college, with only two of the programs noted here.

Antonello D’Onofrio and Claudio Soviero, based in Milan and recognized as one of the world’s outstanding four-handed piano duets, played a twenty-finger, single instrument concert which included works by Beethoven, Ravel, Shostakovich and Bernard Herman, which more than justified their reputation.

Andrey Ponochevny
AC Piano Series

The second artist, among the many world-class performers brought to the concert hall stage, is in a class by himself: Texanized Andrey Ponochevny, bronze medalist at the 2002 Tchaikovsky Competition, who played the last three of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

AC, let it be known, is the only place in Texas where in this celebratory year, one can hear all thirty-two of Beethoven’s sonatas.

The maestro played #30 – #32, and the audience realized from the first phrases of #30 why the artist was a medalist. Every note and nuance of Beethoven’s compositions sang with vibrant clarity and for an hour Amarillo College was the center of the Beethoven piano universe.

CMA Concert
“Toward the South Plains”

Drum roll please, to reveal the #2 fine-arts event of 2019: Toward the South Plains, a collaborative concert by Chamber Music Amarillo and FASO, the organization from St. Andrews Episcopal Church which sponsors concerts, usually featuring the world-famous Aeolian Skinner 1024 organ.

This concert, held at St. Andrews, featured a world premier, Toward the South Plains, by Harlan Hodges, the Amarillo Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dr. Mark Bartley, and a youthful chorus made up of middle school and high school directed by Lizzie Manfredi.

Rick Land, organist for St. Andrews, played two Handel organ works, and the Amarillo Virtuosi played Introduction and Allegro by Edward Elgar. The entire concert was like a rich German Chocolate Cake with an extra layer of icing.

Harlan Hodges
Toward the South Plains

The genesis of Toward the South Plains stemmed from a request by the composer for Chamber Music Amarillo to premier the work, which require both a chorus and a large orchestra. Rick Land also contacted David Palmer, artistic director of CMA offering the performance venue of St. Andrews where Land could also play some organ works. So, a perfect storm coalesced for the premier, with Palmer offering the composer a space, a chorus, a small orchestra and the orchestral capacity of the 1024, and a deal was struck.

In the words of the composer, this work is a journey of body and spirit back to the South Plains, while pondering the ever-present effect of change in our lives.

In the words of this listener, the piece was a transcendent tone poem on the plains. Another audience member maintained this piece more spiritual than anything she’d heard in church. Thanks to CMA, FASO, the Amarillo Virtuosi the young singers, and especially Harlan Hodges for making this event possible.

It’s hard to conceive that this spectacular event could be surpassed.

But it was, by a #1 that was both past incredible and awe-inspiring. I speak of Beethoven’s Ninth, performed by the Amarillo Symphony, the Master Chorale and the First Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir.

Beethoven’s Ninth

Performed in Amarillo for the first time in thirty years, several factors combined to make this event world-class. The Amarillo Symphony, directed by Jacomo Bairos, played in perfect tandem, with French Horn and tympani soloists totally on target.

The vocal soloists embraced Beethoven’s torturous vocalistics, with tenor Dominic Armstrong hitting the high one on Sie ein Held zum Ziegen, oft the sound of only a croaky choke.

The chorus raised the bar on any similar performance I’ve heard anywhere in the world in the last fifty years. The astute direction of Nate Fryml and Dan Baker, vocal talent and choral discipline contributed equally to this ultimate reality.

Imagine Panhandle folk singing Deutsch better than the Dresden Staatskapelle Chorus!

And the apex, often called the greatest expression of the human voice, when the females, who altogether would ascend seventy high A’s, sang out Seid umschlungen Millionen! Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt! with other parts joining in rounds, was truly transcendent!

So the Top 10, with some fudging, serves notice of the rich array of the arts which are in the Panhandle DNA. In quality and variety, the Amarillo arts scene in 2019 is the envy of much larger metropolitan areas.

The best of the best then become the platform for a New Year’s resolution for 2020. “Keep on Keeping Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in that Rear View Mirror!!!”

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