January 26, 2020: Concerto Extraordinaire – Jan. 11

The confluence of high culture within the heart of the Comancheria isn’t a common perception. But, in Amarillo it is the norm, but on January 11 the ordinary became extraordinary, in Chamber Music Amarillo’s Concerto Extraordinaire at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens.

Michael Palmer Conductor
The Amarillo Virtuosi
Concerto Extraordinaire

The title of the concert certainly delivered! Maestro Michael Palmer, former associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, directed the Amarillo Virtuosi, a group of local professional musicians, who, along with soloists Guglielmo Manfredi and Diego Caetano, treated several hundred avid fine arts aficionados to the truly extraordinary!

The first work on the program was Haydn’s Symphony 104, his last, and termed the London Symphony. Although he composed this symphony along with a dozen others by the Thames, the moniker is attached to this particular piece.

Poppa Haydn, the “Father of the Symphony,” began with a ham-fisted quatrain that sounded like an army of orcs bent on destruction of middle earth. But he then segued into a sequence of flippant themes, doubtless taunting the listeners from the hereafter with “Fooled you! Ha! Ha!” The old man had a wicked sense of humor.

Witness the almost larghetto Andante which the director and his musicians periodically pulsed for contrast, and the downbeat-heavy Minuetto. Poppa was all over the place.

But, in the Finale, a strong triad intro is followed by a maelstrom of competing themes, striated by extensive arpeggiation from the strings and emphatic intonations by the winds and tympani.

So, in the place where once buffalo roamed free by the millions, we heard the sound of 18th-century European courts, played with elegance and grace.

Speaking of which, the Renaissance writer Baldasare Castiglione in one of the first true self-improvement books in history, The Courtier, maintained that the key to changing oneself was the acquisition of new habits which by practice could be done with spezzatura: effortless grace.

The audience was privileged to hear an example of musical spezzatura, in the Horn Concerto #1 by Richard Strauss.

This work is dependent on having a horn virtuoso and, while that may sound like a comment on the obvious, the reality is that true artists of this instrument are indeed a Rara Avis. And “Guli” Manfedi, Professor of Music at WTAMU, fits that role to perfection.

Along with spezzatura, the word “mellifluous” comes to mind in describing Dr. Manfedi’s performance. At times this piece exudes an almost martial pomposity while at others is redolent of Romanticism. The intricate runs were smooth and distinct, with the orchestra and artist in perfect sync.

And how many places other than cowboy country could one hear a Strauss horn concerto on a January Saturday night? Extraordinary!

Diego Caetano
Concerto Extraordinaire

Finally, as homage to Beethoven’s 250th birthday, Dr. Diego Caetano, Amarillo College Professor of Music, performed the 4th Piano Concerto. Written in 1805/06, it was premiered in 1808 along with the 5th and 6th Symphonies.

The composer’s increasing deafness was becoming public knowledge, but in these works one starts to hear Beethoven taking inspiration from that inner cosmic realm, hearing the “music of the spheres” that would later have such ethereal expression.

This piece opens with a piano solo, joined by the orchestra, which becomes quite assertive. A tetradal sequence is introduced which is employed throughout the Allegro and is recapitulated in the Rondo.

#4 covers the entire emotional spectrum, from angry and ominous to manically joyous. The challenge of the frequent, some would say constant, mood shifts of Beethoven were accommodated by both Diego and Director Michael Palmer with a perfect balance between soloist and accompaniment.

What an extraordinary performance, and what a night to be enjoy the fine arts out on the high plains! Our gratitude to the musicians of Amarillo Virtuosi, Maestro Michael Palmer, Guglielmo Manfredi and Diego Caetano. A huge “Thank You!” to CMA’s artistic director David Palmer who orchestrated the extreme logistics.

With such incredible opportunities as Concerto Extraordinaire, and the prospect of more to follow in 2020, we proudly say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

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