When was a faculty piano recital more than just a typical faculty piano recital? That would be when Dr. Sarah Rushing of the WTAMU School of Music on March 9 premiered the first Steinway Spiriocast performance to multiple colleges in a national field test for this new technology.
Spriocasting syncs a performer’s keyboard and pedals to an unlimited number of similarly-wired pianos. Not only does the computer program deliver a matching sound, with artist’s inflections and dynamics, but also portrays streaming video of the performer as an empty keyboard, perhaps halfway around the world, mimics their faraway touch. In addition, the program allows recording, playback and editing on the accompanying ipad.
The first Spiriocast occurred on Oct. 25, 2021when Kris Bowers performed from a piano in California for Steinway dealerships around the world. Dr. Rushing gave the first performance targeting a collegiate audience, her Steinway doppelgangers echoing her artistry simultaneously at Odessa College, Wayland University and Weatherford College.
Her program, a combination of 19th and 20th century composers, showcased the Steinway’s versatility and capacity, certainly meeting the criteria for this experiment. The audience in the other three schools enjoyed the virtual video, but with the exact audio, replete with the resonance and nuances that streaming cannot convey.
Two of Dr. Rushing’s choices deserve mention. She opened with Many Thousand Gone, a work by a woman called the “Dean of Black Women Composers,” Undine Smith Moore. This short piece is intense, and can be termed either turbulent or triumphant depending on the listener. Regardless, this work which inaugurated this seminal performance is short, lyrical and highly evocative.
Jean Sibelius published his six impromptus for piano in 1893, about the same time as he composed his Karelia Suite. The Opus 5 no. 5 is a scintillating sequence of keyboard-running arpeggios, interspersed with abbreviated thematic intervals. This beautifully expressive piece was a delight to hear, whether in Canyon, Weatherford, Odessa or Plainview.
It was easy to get carried away by the quality of the performance and overlook its significance. Even as colleges and universities around the world incorporate this new technology, WTAMU will have bragging rights as the first to explore its possibilities.
Many thanks to Dr. Sarah Rushing for her performance, and Dr. Robert Hansen, Dean of the School of Music, for the leadership and vision that first recognized the potential of Spiriocasting. The world of piano performance may never be the same!
All of which only adds to the conviction that the quality of the arts here on the High Plains of the Llano Estacado is incomparable and for which we proudly say..
This last weekend, the Amarillo Symphony posted several milestones. The first was the appearance of the second of the finalists for the position of conductor, Conner Covington. The second was the introduction of Larry Lang as the new Executive Director. The third was that the Amarillo Symphony joined leading symphonies and national choruses around the world in opening their concerts, in addition to their own national anthems, the anthem of Ukraine.
This hauntingly beautiful and majestic national anthem adorns an equally powerful script. “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom,” a relevant affirmation of sovereignty for the present crisis.
Go to YouTube Music and scroll through the various performances of this amazing anthem, of which, the chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera is notably spine tingling.
After the traditional performance of the Star Spangled Banner, the orchestra, with the exception of the cellos remained standing. Conner Covington then announced that the orchestra, signalling support for Ukraine, would perform their national anthem.
The symphony delivered Shche ne Vmerla Ukrainas with a dignity and solemnity worthy of the song‘s message. The back third of the audience immediately stood, while the balance remained seated. Perhaps these attendees never watched the Olympics.
Regardless, the Amarillo Symphony now takes its place with the major arts organizations of the planet in support of the government and people of Ukraine in their struggle. No longer isolated in the Panhandle of Texas, the Symphony proudly takes its place as a world-class organization producing a world-class musical message! Slava Ukraini!
Col. Larry Lang, Rtd. USAF, was also introduced as the new Executive Director of the symphony. This native Texan brings a stellar set of credentials to the position, including commander of Air Force bands around Washington. In conversation he conveys an effortless urbanity reminiscent of Gen. James “Spider” Marks, a frequent CNN commentator.
Welcome to Amarillo Larry! You’ll find the Panhandle a different universe, but you’ll come to appreciate and wonder at the incredible arts scene that characterizes this unlikely place.The symphony and community are lucky to have you!
Quinn Mason is a young Dallas-based composer and, according to his web page, “likes to make waves wherever he goes.” Only in his twenties, his works have been performed by many symphonies both here and abroad.
A Joyous Trilogy, composed in 2019 and revised in 2021, garnered for the composer a first place finish at the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York 2020/21 Emerging Composer Competition.
Quinn notes on his website that his motivation in this work was “to put any listener in a good mood!” The first movement, a complex piece entitled Running, has bounce and vivre, punctuated by brass fanfares. Reflection, the second movement, is somber as opposed to sad, overcast by a languorous trombone solo. The pulse quickens in Renewal, accelerating to a musical blossoming of variegated colors and textures.
What a privilege to listen to the creative mind of this outstanding young composer, and to have him present! Hopefully he will continue to provide orchestral works for symphonies around the world for many years!
From contemporary to classical, another young man’s work that sets the spirit soaring, Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate, was written by Wolfgang when only sixteen. The soloist for this concert was a remarkable young female vocalist, Ashley Marie Robillard. Youth was definitely on parade for much of this program.
The work is a lyric’s playground, the analog of a confectioner’s multi-tiered wedding cake. The fourth movement, Alleleuia, especially showcases the soloist’s virtuosity and Ms. Robillard was certainly equal to the challenge.
This is the 125th anniversary of the death of Johannes Brahms, and, in a departure from the youth on the program, the Second Symphony in D was written when Brahms was forty-four! The fourth movement, Allegro con spirito, is a rousing call to action, which begins with an assertive theme and gradually, over nine minutes amplifies into a thunderous conclusion. A standing ovation becomes imperative, and that’s exactly what Conner Covington and the Amarillo Symphony received.
The audience will not soon forget this program, because of its uniqueness and variety. That bodes well for the conductor candidate, who definitely scored a 10!
Again, for Larry Lang: thank you for your service, and we hope you’ll discover serendipitously why we say, Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!
And, after this performance, we also say Slava Ukraini!
Call it an embarrassment of riches! Three exceptional chamber music concerts: two by Chamber Music Amarillo and one by the renowned Harrington String Quartet, in as many weeks, is a phenomenon of which few fine arts centers in the country can boast. But in this cultural and aesthetic matter, the High Plains owns bragging rights.
It was the writer’s intention to combine all three reviews. That quickly became impossible for reasons that the reader will soon understand.
On February 12, Chamber Music Amarillo, David Palmer Artistic Director, sponsored a Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens. Artists were Annie Chalex Boyle, violin, Doug Storey, clarinet and Daniel Del Pino, piano.
These artists performed Premiere Rhapsodie by Debussy, Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Milhaud, Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Schoenfeld, and Sonata for Violin and Piano by Franck.
Debussy, as faculty at the Paris Conservatory, was “requested” to compose music for clarinet juries, Premiere Rhapsodiebeing one of the pieces. There is no record of students’ reactions to the “privilege” of performing original compositions by one of the world’s preeminent composers in a Pass/Fail exam.
The work impressed as a passionate tone poem, with the first two minutes devoted to virtuosic runs, transitioning to playful arpeggiation.
Darius Milhaud was a prolific composer who created over four hundred works, including ballets and sound tracks for movies and plays. A leading member of the influential Les Six, his career spanned three continents.
He composed Suite as the sound track for an amnesiac French soldier with WWI PTSD. The composer’s stint as embassy secretary in Brazil partially accounts for its eclecticism; witness inclusion of Brazilian dance rhythms, not to mention homage paid to American jazz, which he considered a seminal art form.
Expect the unexpected from Milhaud. In contrast with the first movement, which is infused with Terpsichore, the second is very deliberate, with violin and clarinet giving one another courteous space, like the soldier’s memory keeping itself at distance from the perceptions of reality.
If Milhaud’s Jewish identity influenced his Suite, it was subtle. Not so with Paul Schoenfeld, whose Trio resonates with melodies of the Shtetl. In face, the second movement, March, sounds like a slow slog through a bog accompanied by a Klezmer whine.
Dr. Doug Storey on clarinet not only embraced, but embellished the Hassidic sense of music as religious rapture, doing credit not only to Schoenfeld, but an entire Easter European culture.
Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is too much of a good thing, like truffles and foie gras with Belgian chocolates washed down with a Grand Cru Cabernet. Originally written as a wedding gift for a friend, the turmoil of the work makes one question the composer’s nuptial concepts.
The Allegro, launches with ferocity, which persists, with a few lyrical lapses, until both instruments resolve into a steady state tempest. Towards the end the violin buzzes with a frantic passage like an East Texas mosquito storm on a muggy June night.
As boasted initially, such high culture in the heart of the Comancheria is the norm. So, as we digest the delights of Debussy, Milhaud, Schoenfeld and Franck, we assert with confidence, Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!
What is one to do on Super Bowl Sunday if they are indifferent to the teams as well as to the Hip-Hop halftime extravaganza? If they lived in Amarillo, Texas, they attended a world-class organ recital on the world-famous Aeolian-Skinner organat St. Andrews Episcopal Church..
For the first time in two years, FASO (Friends of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 124), held a public concert. The organist was Clive Dirskell-Smith, one of the most renown young organists on the planet. Educated at Oxford and organist at Christ Church, Oxford from 2001-2018, he is currently organist and choirmaster at All Saints Episcopal in Ft. Worth.
His varied program actualized the capacity of this amazing instrument. Two of his pieces are noted here.
Herbert Howells (1892-1983) had a case of insomnia one night courtesy of a Zeppelin raid, which inspired his Rhapsody in C# Minor. This piece narrates every people under air attack, who endure, persevere, and ultimately claim victory.
The unmistakable low registers prevail in the tumultuous opening, calling to mind the engines of the airships and the explosions of their ordnance.
At approximately 2:45 the music turns eerily soft, perhaps the quiet after battle or the stillness of death.
At 4:30 the piece starts to build assertively, noting that the winds of war are blowing in the opposite direction. Then, at a certain point, the swell tempers, a caution against overconfidence.
But, at 7:30, the volume again starts to build with the piece ending in triumphant crescendo, the composer confident of victory even in the darkest days of WWI.
Howells’ work commands a powerful relevance in the present distress. As the sirens sound in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the brave and defiant Ukrainians know that their endurance will ensure that they will ultimately hear, as Howells’ work promises, the rhapsody of victory.
Georg Frederick Handel first performed his Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 3 No. 5 in 1735 after he and his company relocated to Covent Garden. The father of the concerto,these pieces were composed partly for the purpose of luring audiences away from the rival venue. So, even the lofty ideals of artistic creation can serve a pragmatic impulse.
Driskill-Smith went full Handel on the Aeolian Skinner, the contrasts in the piece again showcasing the versatility of the instrument.
The opening Larghetto is slow and deliberate, while the Allegro, by contrast bounces with a recurrent theme. The Alla Sicilianais somber, almost morose, while the Presto is bright and alive.
The piece is a real roller coaster brought to its actualized fruition by the magnificence of the Opus 124.
On a personal note, Clive and I reminisced about a Christ Church cleric that I knew when I went to New College and that he worked with. Small world this.
There was a wine and cheese reception in the Fellowship Hall following the concert where all celebrated the world-class artistry, a not uncommon experience here on the High Plains, that we had just heard.
For this phenomenon we, along with Clive, proudly raise our glasses as we toastKeep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!
February 9 – 13 the WTAMU Dept of Theatre and Dance staged the Shakespearean classic As You Like Itin the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre. Think a comedy/romance with a Game of Thrones vibe, sans dragonsof course, where true love wins out and bad is banished. Such a happy ending is as we all would like it, whether now or in the early seventeenth century.
The play, though written over four hundred years ago, has, with its questioning of gender roles and behaviors, a particular modern resonance and relevance. In the context of the quest for true love and the desire for power, constants in human nature, the play explores the fallacies of perception that can lead all of us down uncharted paths, whether into the fantasy glade of Arden and/or new possibilities for actualization.
A key to the perennial endurance of the bard’s work, besides the universal themes and issues, is its adaptability to time and space: witness Romeo and Juliet in 20th century L.A. or A Midsummer’s Night Dream in a 19th century Tuscan town with characters on bicycles. So what were the creative twists in this production that made it stand out as different?
Though the dialogue is set in stone, directors permit themselves wide latitude regarding musical interludes, whether vocal or instrumental, trying either to approximate the original or insert new compositions.
In the case of As You Like It, which is recognized as the most musical of Shakespeare’s plays, Director Echo Sunyata Sibley’s creative team went over the top, and their compositions stood out as high points in the production. Three examples are noted.
Zachary Todd composed four works for this production, with arrangements by the director and Raffaele Abbate. At one point, the hero Orlando sings in the manner of Elvis, eliciting audience laughs where there would usually be silence.
The hunting song, a stomp the yard chant performed by the entire cast, was almost a tribal in effect and created by the members circling and then doing a version of “We Will Rock You” as they responded to prompts thrown out by the director.Collaborative creativity at its finest.
Hymen’s Prayer, sung by the cast at the wedding was richly liturgical, almost Palestrina-like in its harmony.One would think they were hearing the University Chorale.
Sunyata-Sibley added a comic warm-up, a stock character from the Comedia Dell’Arte trope who represents Zanni, a foreigner in a strange land, interacting with other outsiders, the audience, new to the forest. Bella Walker’s improv antics held the attention of those seating for both the first and second acts, with a syllabic spew worthy of a Tolkien tongue.
The magic element of a forest nymph was expanded by the director into three characters, who both sang and danced, with terpsichorean moves worthy of the Mariinsky.
The characters delivered their lines with clarity and an adroit sense of timing, devoid of caricatured British accents. And the stage, had an aesthetic utility in its construction, serving equally as a palais royale and a sylvan hideout.
To see Shakespeare performed with such creativity did credit to the bard and was a privilege to see. But, incredible as it seems, enjoying quality theatre along with all the other fine arts is a regular feature of life here in Cowboy Country. That is As We Like It up here on the high plains.
Anticipating future performances that enhance our quality of life, we say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”
Say the title fast, three times. It sounds like a tongue twister developed by speech therapists to war against the slow-talking Panhandle palate.
Yet it refers to a real event when Dr. Nick Scales, principal bassist for the Amarillo Symphony and music faculty member at WTAMU secured the incomparable double bass owned by the legendary Serge Koussevitsky and treated a lucky audience to a memorable Sunday afternoon recital, February 6 in WTAMU’s Fine Arts Complex Recital Hall.
Serge Koussevitsky was the iconic conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 -1948. He was also a composer, and a musician specializing in the double bass.
His instrument’s creation was long attributed to the Amati family of Cremona. Later research pegged construction as French, dating around the mid-eighteenth century, qualifying it as vintage, by any standard.
After his death, Koussevitsky’s widow gifted the upright to Gary Karr, the preeminent American bassist. In 2005, Karr donated it to the International Bassist Society, which has subsequently loaned the bass viol to artists all over the planet. Sunday marked Nick’s time to bow and fret this magnificent example of the luthier’s art to the delight of some forty privileged attendees.
Maestro Scales, like Maestro Koussevitsky, is determined that the double bass deserves acclaim as a solo instrument, not an orchestral back bencher. His crusade was abetted by the rich sonorities and luscious, complex overtones unlocked by his bow.
Accompanied by Mila Abbasova on the piano, his program intentionally showcased the upright’s immense range and capacity. Two of the works, long considered staples of the bass repertoire, are noted.
Koussevitsky, as mentioned, was also a composer, and his short piece Valse Miniature featured his artistic specialty. The majority of this work involves intricate yet lyrical multi-octave runs on the strings while the piano plays a rhythmic 3/4. Towards the end the parts become somewhat contrapuntal, the bass mirroring the keyboard.
It’s as if both men dared the audience: “just listen to this!” We did, and came away convinced.
A second number on the program worth noting was Concerto No. 2 by Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), a composer of the Romantic Era, who was also the first to advance the overhand bow grip for bassists. And, like Koussevitsky, his agenda was to promote the versatility of an instrument long relegated to the non-melodic end of the scale.
The Allegro Moderato involves sequences of runs covering the octaval range, some with some quite intense sawing. The Andante, by contrast, is passionate and lyrical, while the Allegro opens with a pulsing gallop that carries the listener from buzzing lows to squeaky highs.
If Romanticism focuses on the emotions, then Bottesini obviously wanted to startle the listener by the potential of this instrument. By this measure, both the composer and the artist succeeded.
What a honor, in this unlikely place, to hear this incomparable instrument played by obviously a world-class artist!
The fact that artistic offerings of such uncommon quality are not uncommon events here on the Comancheria affirms our commitment to Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!
“Show don’t tell!” The mantra of authors of every genre is currently on full display at Amarillo Little Theatre Adventure Space. In the space of two hours and through the magic of the stage, the cast and crew of Cabaret have done what hundreds of eminent historians in thousands of tomes have attempted: show how Germany morphed from a democracy to a fascist autocracy is less than a decade, although the actual focus of the play is Berlin, c. 1929-1930.
Reprised from one of the initial shows at the Adventure Space nearly two decades ago, all associated ALT personnel demonstrated that the impact of the musical has increased exponentially during that interim, as testified by the exit of a mute and sobered audience.
Two scenes, both floor shows at the Kit Kat Klub Caberet depict the story arc of the play. In both, the audience is welcomed by the emcee, the omniscient narrator and a paragon of louche depravity, played with Satanic relish by Jason Driver.
In the opening number, the Kit Kat girls and boys, scantily clad adverts for all forms of licentious exploration, romp around, encapsulating all of the moral anarchy associated with the politically impoverished Weimar Republic. Both sexes mime their specialties as the emcee explains. Mary Poppins, this ain’t! The cast members, true to their characters, performed their parts, from naughty to nasty, devoid of restraint or inhibition. Those who try to force this area into a mold of conservative rigidity obviously don’t know Amarillo’s stage scene, especially the Adventure Space.
In stark contrast, the second act’s final floor show scene, shows the bevy of beauties now Stahlhelm crowned and strutting in goosed and booted lockstep as they form a revolving swastika on stage. Die Neuordnung kommt! And, between these numbers, Everyman archetypes populate the limelight, illuminating this sordid transformation.
Sally Bowles, played by the incredibly talented Terry Martin, personifies willful ignorance of the worsening situation. Playing whatever part is necessary for Sally to get what Sally wants, she drops her facade in a moment of introspection, questioning whether she’s good enough to be a wife and mother. But, she gets over it, deciding to keep dancin’ with who brung her. Unhappiness is probably the least of the fates the future holds for Sally.
Dillon Kizarr plays the outsider, the ambigendered American writer Clifford Bradshaw who sees with clarity what is taking place in Germany. His attempts to enlighten fall on deaf ears, even as he takes amorous detours with Bobby, and does smuggling on the side for Ernst Ludwig, the Nazi party hack. Cliff is, like so many of us, a contradiction. But, he does recognize evil, stands up to it and pays the price. To Sally, shocked at his battered visage, he stoically remarks, “Well you ought to see the other three guys’ faces. Not a mark on them.”
Jo Smith and Jacob Miller are both convincing in their roles of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Fraulein Schneider calls herself a survivor, forsaking true love and happiness with the Jewish Schultz, laying low in order to survive. How many hundreds of thousands of such survivors were immolated in the firestorm of Hamburg or obliterated in the leveling of Dresden or Nuremberg? Herr Schultz, on the other hand, is in denial that the Nazis will ever come to power, and that the increasing violence against Jews is nothing but schoolboy pranks.
The greatest character change is seen in Fraulein Kost, the in-house prostitute played by Amber Morgan, who literally becomes the voice of change. Her solo in “Married” is auf Deutsch, full of hope and shows her tender side. However, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” which starts off as whimsical and light, centering on the new life of spring, becomes hard-edged and lethal, the cast forming a tightening circle around the two couples as Nazi flags unfurl from overhead. The effect was chilling. But it only got worse.
A sidebar on “Tomorrow,” composed by Fred Ebb and John Kander and used in the original stage production. The songwriters, both Jewish, conceived of the work as part of an anti-fascist cycle, but ironically, it has been adopted as an anthem by right-wing groups all over the western world.
Germans bought Hitler’s big lie, that Germany didn’t lose WWI, as well as his promise of MGGA. The consequence to any who didn’t conform, like Jews, or artists because they have the nasty habit of thinking for themselves, consumed the final scene, where all wore striped pajamas. The play abruptly closed with a crashing lights out and the characters vanished. A stunned audience didn’t applaud as the lights returned, and the dramatis personae made no curtain call.
Each in attendance exited lost in their own thoughts. This reaction alone attests to both the quality and effect of Cabaret.
The opening of the play so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day can’t be circumstantial and the brace of Caberet’s messages are more relevant than ever. The big lie, racism and antisemitism headline our news. The Jan. 6 insurrection, which the RNC so spinelessly called a “legitimate political discourse,” featured numerous 6MWE (six million weren’t enough) and “Camp Auschwitz” sweaters among the rioters.
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Monuments from Yad Vashem to the Holocaust Museum are dedicated to that memory. And, Amarillo Little Theatre has joined its voice to that mission. No one seeing Cabaret will forget its message, either historical or in current threat.
We can be thankful for such edgy theatre, that dares speaks the truth to powerful prejudice, and does so with matchless artistry. For this, and all of the elevated art found in this unlikely place, we say with gratitude, Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!
The supreme cosmic force governing not only the stage but much of life, is timing. Remember Patrick Mahomes and the thirteen seconds? Faulty timing reduces the greatest talent to mediocrity and the most inspired stagecraft to bumbling ineptitude.
Amarillo LIttle Theatre’s recently-completed mainstage run of Murder on the Orient Express, pegged the timing down to the nano-second, and the ensuing collaboration of characters and staging produced a triumph!
The play embraces a favorite Shakespearean motif: the conflict between the apparent and the real. So, Murder becomes a play within a play with all but two of the characters portraying alternate personas to mask their true identities.
The Agatha Christie estate commissioned Ken Ludwig to craft a stage adaption of the iconic Whodunnit. The interpretation of the playwrightalong with the artistic visionof ALT’s directors, cast and crew did credit to the late legendary dame.
Though not listed in cast, one of the main players in this drama was the stage. Director Jason Crispin and his team did a deep dive into creative scene management that utilized multi-purpose modules which effected seamless changes in a matter of seconds.
And, to literally top it all off, a screen running atop the length of the stage, captured the passing landscape and changing weather conditions imparted a realistic view from the passengers’ perspectives
Each member of the cast effectively portrayed credible characters, not, in the words of an ALT employee, just caricatures. That quality was born out in the multinational melange of accents and dialects demanded by the script: try Hungarian; Swedish; French; Russian; Scottish; New York City; English; American. That the cast maintained variegated linguistic purity with nary a slip into Panhandle-Plains patois is a testimony to talent.
We note only three of this stellar dramatis personae: Carrie Huckaby; Brooks Boyett: Michael Newman. Carrie Huckaby gave a credible portrayal of the brash, self-seeking Helen Howard, whose true identity, agenda and ultimate volte faceseeded the genesis of the plot.
Brooks Boyett, a really nice young man, could film his own Despicable Mefrom his cringe worthy portrayalof the child-abducting murderer Samuel Ratchett. Brook’s role inspired no tears of audience sympathy at his own well-earned demise.
Finally, Michael Newman was flawless as Hercule Poirot. His role incorporated not only the accent, noted above, but the subtle nuances of non-verbal expression endemic to the French character.
Kudos to cast and crew for delivering a stage production far above the pay grade of the ticket cost!
And quality theatre is just one of the reasons the arts in Amarillo astound and amaze.
Thus we offer the benediction: Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!
Two Christmas concerts at WTAMU School of Music, Dec 4th and 5th respectively, definitely amped up the Xmas spirit while infusing the listeners with a healthy dose of quality music.
The first, on Dec. 4th, and performed by the Chamber Singers, was a mixtue of classical and contemporary, the latter featuring seven numbers either composed or arranged by Dr. Sean Pullen, WTAMU choral conductor.
Two of the classical works deserve comment: Dixit Maria by Hans Leo Hassler; Adoramus te Christie by Quirino Gasparini.
Hassler (1564-1612) served as a bridge to the Baroque in German music. During his time in Venice he knew both Gabrieli’s, and was influenced by their harmonics, reflected in the lush beauty of Dixit Maria. Typically his compositions, at the height of the Reformation, could be sung in both Catholic and Protestant churches.
Gasparini (1721-1778) composed primarily church music and operas. He knew Mozart, and his work, because of its haunting ethereal quality, was attributed to Wolfy until 1922.
Any Christmas program, whether local or national, on media or in-person, typically blairs White Christmas or Winter Wonderland ad nauseam. But there was only one place to hear the magical sounds of Hassler and Gasparini, and it was here in Cowboy Country.
Sunday, December 5, was the annual Christmas concert of the WTAMU choirs and symphony orchestra, joined this year by the choir from Canyon High School. Downloaded free tickets were required for entry, and both programs (4 and 7) were fully subscribed, a testimony to the popularity of the event.
The program featured its traditional staples, namely audience singing and amazing ensemble performance, but also had surprises.
After the University Chorale took over after the audience singing of O Come All Ye Faithful, Welcome Yule by Charles Hubert Wilson Parry set the table for a musical feast. Two contemporary religious works of an importunate vein followed: Nunc Dimittis by Gyorgy Orban; Adoramus te, Christie by Eric Barnum. Orban was born in Romania but lives in Hungary while Barnum is choral director at Drake University.
Then the combined Chorale and Collegiate Choir performed eine kleine nachtmusik by Mozart in Veni Sancta Spiritus, a bold, high energy hymn/homily that takes listeners on a merry ride all over the dynamics map.
Then in the worlds of Monty Python, “Now for something completely different!” the choirs sang a piece of pure Americana, Go Tell It on the Mountain arranged by Stacey Gibbs.
Then, after an audience singfest of The First Nowell, the first surprise.
Rositza Goza, first violinist of the Harrington String Quartet, literally made her instrument sing as she, along with the WTAMU Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Mark Bartley, played the Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet.
Thais, a pagan devotee of Venus and hedonism is converted to Christianity and is wrestling with the spiritual urge to become a Cenobite in order to achieve true spirituality. She ultimately resolves to go into seclusion and into the desert.
The music is painfully poignant, an expression of the spiritual and emotional turmoil raging in the heart of the beautiful Thais. And never has the Meditation achieved a more beautiful and sensitive expression than from Rositza’s bow.
But wait, there’s more in the way of surprises. How about an original, five part Chroal Symphony/Mass from a real-life Texan, Taylor Scott Davis!And, true to a long-standing concert tradition, the choir from an area high school is invited to perform the large number with the college kids. This year the choir was that of Canyon High School, and they appeared much at ease singing with the older students.
Of the five parts of the Magnificat, four are in Latin and only one, Shall I Rejoice is in English.
The first section, Magnificat, is high energy, not high church, with some lines purely melodic, some contrapuntal, and some in unison.
Eleisha Miller sang the second part, as noted above, with the accompaniment of complex orchestration.
Part III, Et Misericordia, again featured Rositza Goza, whose violin played a lyrical descant, a melody above the medoly and a deft touch by the composer.
The Deposuit, Part IV, features a male opening with all parts then coalescing melodically.
Gloria Patri, Part V, has a thunderous opening which transitions into a male/female echochamber. After an instrumental interlude, the males state the lines beginning Sicut erat in principio several times, a theme taken up by the females. The finale is a protracted sequence of Amens, decorated with chimes and cymbals, with a final last syllable that is sustained ad infinitum!
The final carole was Hark the Herald Angels Sing with the choirs putting an exclammation mark at the end with phrases from Go Tell It on the Mountain and Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.
This concert was, in a word, spectacular! All elements worked in tandem, noted especially in Davis’s Magnificat where the high school students were, like their eollegiate colleagues, flawless in singing liturgical Latin.
A comparison can be drawn with the nationally-televised Christmas concert at Belmont University in Nashville. WTAMU haas an articulation agreement with Belmont in some music production and music business fields, and so the two are sister schools insofar as music majors are concerned.
This year the Belmont concert did not feature a well-known recording artist, but focussed on the students, some six hundred of whom were on stage. And, the program was varied, with Christmas songs ranging from traditional to country.
But, WTAMU’s program was far more complex, and the quality of sound was on par or even surpassing that of Belmont.
The only negative about this annual concert is that the audience now has to wait a year for another.
But, there’s plenty of music and the arts between now and then. Out here on the High Plains, which Georgia O’Keeffe said poetically is a land where the sky meets the howling wind we enjoy a quality of the arts that is unsurpassed.
That’s why we say, at the end of 2021, and in the hopes of a safer, saner, more art-filled world in 2022,
Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!
There’s something inherently compelling about Handel‘s Messiah that inspire its annual, sometimes semi-annual performances in English and German all over the western world.
There are perhaps several reasons for this perennial popularity, but at its core the soul-stirring music and lofty message resonate with the human spirit, giving it wings to apprehend the infinite.
The Amarillo Symphony, led by guest conductor Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony, with soloists Jocelyn Hansen, soprano, Cara Collins, mezzo, Eric Barry, tenor and Andrew Craig Brown, baritone, and a chorus of the Amarillo Master Chorale, directed by Dr. Nate Frymyl, certainly gave those wings to a lucky audience the night of December 3 at the Globe News Center.
The program was abridged, but included popular numbers, the selections possessing a continuity leading up to the finale of the Hallelujah Chorus.
There are perhaps two basic ways to conduct Messiah: legato with eliding phrases; staccato with distinct separation. Peter Bay chose the latter, which more nearly embraced the composer’s intent, and the orchestra followed that direction flawlessly.
Hometown fave, tenor Eric Barry, set the bar extremely high in his opening aria, Comfort Ye My People.” Eric’s ability to sustain the E’s and F’s to inhuman lengths, and then effortlessly take it up a couple of steps is truly a Stupor Mundi (Wonder of the World). That quality most certainly makes him Metropolitan-bound and is reminiscent of Luciano Pavarotti at Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal.
The selected works, however, shortchanged bass-baritone Andrew Craig Brown, who was unable to sing the most powerful work for his part, The Trumpet Shall Sound and the Dead Shall be Raised from I Corinthians 15.
The Master Chorale filled the auditorium in the choruses, each part making a precise, on-key entrance, and singing the complicated runs as one voice. Both For Unto Us a Child is Born as well as And the Glory of the Lord were thrilling.
The astute direction of Dr. Nate Frymyl appeared throughout in a consistency of phrasing and balance of parts. As mentioned in the review of Mozart’s Requiem, the director has to turn down the volume on the male voices. Choral directors everywhere would love to have that problem.
And it all came together powerfully in the electrifying Hallelujah Chorus. The four soloists, as opposed to many occasions when they’ve just mutely stood, joined their own voice to the singing.
If the immediate effect was majestic, the overall result was to infuse the most inveterate Scrooge with the spirit of Christmas present.The Amarillo Symphony, Master Chorale, soloists, and yes, the audience reaction did credit to Handel and the mighty message of his work, which, another Stupor Mundi, he dashed off in only twenty-four days.
But that’s the way we roll here on the Comancheria, and why we say in the spirit of the holiday season: Keep Amarillo Artsy; Keep Austin Weird; Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!