March 22, 2019: Amarillo Museum of Art – Selections from the William Campbell Contemporary Art Gallery

Red Oxide Circle
Otis Jones
William Campbell Contemporary Art

Bill and Pam Campbell of William Campbell Contemporary Art Gallery in Fort Worth, have been a part of the contemporary art scene since 1974, subsequently exhibiting the work of some of the most important artists of the era. The Amarillo Museum of Art is exhibiting the works of a number of those artists, a few of which are noted here, with the show running through March 31.

Bernd Hausmann
Untitled #2463
William Campbell Collection

Bernd Haussmann paints by impulse, connecting to the voice within which becomes a portrayal of mindfulness. Textural layers are revelatory of psychological currents, eternal verities, doubts and questions. “The more information and energy I put into painting, the more it will resonate with the viewer.”

James Marshall
Red #387

James Marshall maintains that he likes to play with shapes until they morph into something almost recognizable. The firing and glazing process is consistent with the tradition of the American Southwest, making his work both contemporary yet timeless.

Benito Huerta
Shock and Awe – 2009

Benito Huerta extracts art from art, as shown in Shock and Awe, whose context draws upon Gauguin, but whose layered connotations are both contemporary and apocalyptic.

John Holt Smith
Wildflower Oculus

John Holt Smith was initially inspired by the possibilities deriving from spectroscopy, which quantifies the unique color signature of any form of matter. He works from photos, enlarging a cross section then edits that selection into unique chromatic striations. He then depicts that color sequence on iridescent aluminum panels, a process again that is both traditional and contemporary

This is a spectacular exhibition at the Amarillo Museum of Art is a surprise to those who think that contemporary art in this area is the most recent rendering of the plains with cowboys, cattle and windmills. Again, that’s why we assert “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

March 19, 2019 Synaesthesia Art Exhibit, Amarillo College

An art show by Amarillo College students currently showing in the Commons of the Fine Arts Complex is worth noting before it comes down March 21.

Titled Synaesthesia, which refers to sequential stimulation of sensory or cognitive pathways, student artists created works inspired by music, sounds, aromas, tastes and touch. A few of the results are offered.

Steven Kimbrell
Trial of Control

Steven Kimbrell was inspired for Trial of Control by the song Can’t Wait Until Night, which connotes quasi-apocalyptic fantasy. The result suggests another Franz Kline in the making.

Tasia Brown
Hey Kids

Tasia Brown, in Hey Kids responded to the totality of a retro 90’s musical vibe that was a mash-up of happy and sinister. Some might discern a Yin Yang continuum in her creation, to which others might just say, “That’s life!”

Jennifer Hoschouer
Beautiful Day

Jennifer Hoschouer was inspired by the song Beautiful Day by U2 that then coalesced with Alice in Wonderland and the cards painting the roses red, which in this case, she abstracted blue.

Well, why not! These young artists are exercising their creative mandate to suggest alternative perceptions to a viewing public. I congratulate them on their courage, confidence and creativity.

Congrats also to their instructors who challenged them to go far beyond their comfort zones. The quality of their art appears worth the risk of the adventure.

The Art Department at Amarillo College, its instructors and students is one more reason we can say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!”

March 18, 2019: Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment”

What happens when the Metropolitan Opera meets the Marx Brothers?Voila! You have the production of Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, broadcast live at the Hollywood 16 in Amarillo on March 2.

Rarely does high art coincide with a good belly laugh, but that’s precisely what happened at the Harrington Performance Hall – named for Amarillo’s Sybil B. Harrington – in NYC, and simulcast in HD.

Director Laurent Pelly, one of France’s most versatile, with a long list of credits, showed himself also a master of slapstick.

Pretty Yende, as Marie, and in contrast to tragic roles like Musetta in La Boheme, reveals herself as a consummate comedienne. Her masculine raunch, as one might expect from a young woman raised only by a company of poilu(meaning “hairy ones:” term of endearment for French soldiers in WWI) was unimpeachable and totally credible.

In comedy, all effects derive from timing and nuance, and whether directed or instinctive, Pretty was pitch perfect in both regards. For instance, at one point she is muttering to herself in frustration in an unknown tongue: she was speaking her native Zulu with tongue clicks characteristic of the Bushmen. Turns out she had forgotten her French lines in rehearsal so defaulted to dialect. Laurent Pelly said use that: it works better than the script.

The leading man, Javier Camarena’s blatant buffoonery makes him, at times, look like he’s been beaten with an idiot stick. Well, he’s in love, and love can make us all look foolish.

His stars definitely aligned for his aria A’ mes amis when he hit nine high C’s in sequence. For the first time in broadcast history, the audience demanded, and received an encore: a BOGO of 18 top notes, a performance that certainly stood out.

Other roles stood out. The imperious grande dames Stephanie Blythe as the Marquis of Birkenfield and Kathleen Turner, of screen fame, as well fit the part of the Duchess of Krakendorf. Ms. Blythe’s impenetrable facade cracks upon revelation that she is, in fact, Marie’s mother.

Also, Maurizio Murano, as Sulpice, the chief father figure of a whole regiment of fathers, is a perfect foil for Yende, Blythe and Turner.

The plot requires a generous application of what Rushkin called “the suspension of disbelief.” But, since true love wins out, it’s not that hard a sell.

The unabashed Francophilia requires a greater degree of indulgence, but, again, in the context of high art/high comedy, the bias is tolerable.

Set in WWI, the production is a nod to the recent centenary of the Great War’s conclusion. When art can bring laughter, elevation and enjoyment, it brings healing, even a century later.

And that’s what we, out on the barren plains, of all places, witnessed from the Met. That’s why we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!”

March 14, 2019: Opera Cowgirls Featured Art: Steve Cost

Opera Cowgirls
First Friday ArtWalk
Sunset Galleries
Amarillo-Mar 1, 2019

Try crossing the voices of Renee Fleming and Elizabeth Leonard with Tammy and Reba and you have some conception of the Opera Cowgirls.

Founded by mezzo Caitlin McKechney, who has played the serial seductress Carmen more than once, as a way to bring more opera to the public, the Opera Cowgirls make grand opera fun, and on par with country western without distraction or distortion.

The New York City based group rejoined their token Texan, Sarah Beckham-Turner, an Amarillo native, now at WTAMU, for their first Texas performances. Maria Lindsey, associated with the Met told me “Finally I’ve gotten to wear cowgirl boots and people don’t look at me weird!”

A bipolar musical orientation is nominally inherent, but while here the ladies showed they had more sides, singing at the First Friday Art Walk at the Sunset Galleries, at an upscale jazz bar on Polk Street, at a local church, and presenting a heavy-duty memorial to WWI.

Opera Cowgirls
Letters That You Will Not Get:
Women’s Voices From the Great War
Mar 4, 2019
Fine Arts Complex Recital Hall: WTAMU

On Mar. 4 at the Fine Arts Complex Recital Hall, these ladies of song presented Letters That You Will Not Get: Women’s Voices From the Great Warm a stunning vocal testimonial to the trauma wrought by war on wives, mothers and the women soldiers left behind.

Dr. Kirsten Volness composed this work around the libretto by Susan Werbe and Kate Holland. The voices, from solo to quartet sang with an eerie accompaniment of violin and cello. The librettists drew on letters from both the Allies and the Central Powers, because every male in war is a mother’s son or likely some woman’s significant other. The casualty lists from the battlefield don’t factor damage to the human heart on the home front.

The letters and songs spoke of isolation, of anguish, as well as coping in a dark time. A few examples convey the powerful role women played. Dear Alice is composed of thoughts and wishes of mothers of servicemen, which asks the question towards the end, “Can this truly be the will of God?”

“The Dancers” has both a literal and a surrealistically figurative sense. One dances in spite of death, to escape the presence of death and just because you’re alive.

Sarah Beckham-Turner, with broom in hand, sings Salonika: “My husband’s in Salonika and I don’t know if he is dead!”

The singing, both solo and ensemble has an edgy relationship to the strings and is almost off – key. War results when harmony is destroyed, a destruction wreaking emotional havoc on the home front.

This haunting, impactful work required the immense vocal talent of these professional ladies to make it work. And it worked to magnify the reality that though the Great War concluded over a century ago, we still feel and deal with its consequences.

Opera Cowgirls
Mar 4, 2019: WTAMU

“Now for sometime completely different!” made famous in Monty Python. In what constituted a complete artistic volte face from the first of the program, the Opera Cowgirls started ‘dancin with who brung’em.’

For instance, Donizetti’s Una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir D’Amore crescendoed in trio to the overwrought, overdone Momma, si Momma as if in Branson or the Grand Ole’ Opry.

Jessica Sandidge, who also sings with the Met, held forth in full sparkle coloratura in Sempre Libera from Verdi’s La Traviata accompanied by banjolele and cello, the aria losing nothing from the creative acoustics.

And O mio babbino caro by Puccini in Gianni Schicchi loses any hope of sappiness when accompanied by a trio of kazoos.

Three of the ladies sing soprano, but Caitlin McKechney is a mezzo who deeps down to contralto. Her range and richness facilitate a range of harmonies, in evidence when three of the women sang Hallelujah Chorus, the voices sometimes appropriating the melody within the same phrase.

If purists are outraged by this approach, they falsify an alleged desecration and need to understand that the goal of any artist is to expand both outreach and contact.

The Opera Cowgirls have shown that the integrity of opera remains inviolate in this democratized, two-stepping rendition and these professionals can down-home their voices and arrangements to reach out all across this country. However, I’d like to hear them try this with Wagner.

The Opera Cowgirls are a treasure, for which Amarillo can take partial credit. Hopefully Sarah Beckham-Turner’s relocation to WTAMU will catalyze return engagements.

What a performance, spanning the profound to the proletarian. Their art form is rare and deserves more recognition: they just need to get out of the Big Apple frequently and come to Cowboy Country.

For the ladies we say Bravi, and for WTAMU and all who made this possible we say Bravos!

But in encore we say with ovation, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!

March 11, 2019: WTAMU – Narrative of a Slave Woman; CMA-Music of the Parlor. Featured Art Steve Cost

LaToya Lain, Soprano
Casey Robards, Piano
Narrative of a Slave Woman
WTAMU, NRH – March 2, 2019

Too often history of any form, whether political, social, or, in this case musical, is a chronicle of preferences and consequences of elites.

Two recent concerts gave a musical voice to masses of Americans whose song has too long remained dormant, but whose musical message of the heart resonates powerfully in the 21st century.

On March 2, a performance entitled Narrative of a Slave Woman: A Concert of Negro Spirituals was presented at Northern Recital Hall on the WTAMU campus, co-sponsored by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Amarillo Opera, along with support from the University Guest Artist Committee.

Chamber Music Amarillo, on March 9 at the Fibonacci Space, featured a special program entitled A Celebration-Music of the Parlor, Saloon, Stage, and Screen, with artists Twyla Robinson, assistant professor of voice at TCU and Jerome Tan, now one of the most sought-after piano accompanists in the country.

The music at each venue shared common characteristics. In the first place it was the sound of America’s hinterlands and rural pathways, the voices of those ignored by eastern urbanity and plantation mastery.

Both forms were cathartic, a cry of released pain from social and political realities over which the individual had no control.

And, in each was hope of escape. In the case of slaves it was literal. In the farmlands and townships that proliferated across middle America in the pre-radio/phonograph era, it was the only entertainment.

The vocalists have each made a cause celebre of bringing these songs to a greater public awareness. Dr. LaToya Lain, from the University of Minnesota, whose rich soprano was a mixture of Leontyne Price and Jesse Norman, framed her songs within the narrative of Maggie Davis, born in 1806 but who lived through Emancipation.

Dr. Robinson’s quest began with the discovery of boxes of a grandparent’s cassette tapes, on which he, late in life, recorded all the songs his friends and family sang around the parlor piano out on the Colorado Plains.

She related that she was most taken with how Americans dealt with war, often with humor to mask the pain, like the innocence of the WWI songs His Buttons Are Marked US and They Were All Out of Step But Jim.

Pain was paramount in the slave spirituals. The program opened with LaToya singing, acapella and with wrenching anguish, Lord How Come Me Here? containing the lines I wish I never was born!

Then, with piano played by Dr. Casey Robards from the University of Illinois, the artist sang Watch and Pray with a child asking “Momma, is Massa gonna sell us tomorra?” Maggie would have two children taken from her, such was the evil what blighted our land.

We cannot atone for the sins of our forefathers, but in honoring the songs of those oppressed, we dignify their humanity, something foreign to our ancestors.

In both song cycles courage was depicted and enjoined. The message of Steal Away and Wade in the Water spoke of hope for a better life through escape. Just “follow that drinkin gourd!”

Twyla Robinson
Jerome Tan
Chamber Music Amarillo
March 9, 2019

And, at the Fibonacci Space, much of the program focused on the composer Carrie Jacobs Bonds who rose from sleeping-on-the-bare-floor-one-meal-a-day poverty to owning a multi-million dollar music publishing company. Her most famous song, A Perfect Day written in 1909, sold over twenty fivc million copies. Called by President Hoover “America’s Gallant Lady of Song,” she certainly broke the glass ceiling, an example to hold up for International Woman’s Day!

One of the highlights was Jerome Tan playing the Maple Leaf Rag. Who says the Fazioli 278 is just for concertizing in the great halls? The touch of Tan gave this piece all of the barroom bounce Scott Joplin could have wanted.

Our thanks to David Palmer of CMA and Robert Hansen, Dean of the WTAMU School of Music who were pivotal in arranging these events in such meaningful proximity. The combined effect was to provide a valuable insight into the heart of a bygone era, helping many of us to connect with our past.

For its only by knowing our origins that we can truly come to know ourselves and move forward to make a better world.

For such enlightenment and uplift, we strongly assert, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

March 9, 2019 WTAMU Symphony Orchestra Concert Featured Art: Steven Cost

Nicholas Scales
WTAMU Symphony Orchestra
February 24, 2019

The WTAMU Symphony Orchestra presented its spring term concert on Feb. 24 at the Northern Recital Hall.

It goes without saying that the mature artistry of the young musicians was magnificent!

The program, entitled Fables and Lore, was equally memorable for its selections: two Americans; one Italian and one Chinese composer. Two of the works came from the 19th century, and one each from the 20th and 21st centuries. Finally, two of the four composers wrote film scores.

The concert began with the Allegro from the Sonata for Piano Duet and String Quartet by Jerome Moross, best-known for writing the music for sixteen films, most famously Big Country.

It’s no wonder that the entire work had a soundtracky vibe: very peppy and upbeat, and, without question, an American sound.

From filmscores to Italian opera, the orchestra, under the baton of of graduate student Stephanie Littlejohn, played the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. This short, evocative work seems to reflect tender, emotional musings where distance in time and space conjure longing, not pain.

The featured work was Contrabass Concerto: Wolf Totem created by the Chinese composer Tan Dun in 2014. Dun, like Moross wrote music for films like Crouching Tiger…., and this piece showcases the talent of Associate Professor Nicholas Scales on the double bass.

In this work Dun takes the listener beyond the Great Wall to the steppes of Mongolia where the endless sky is divinity, divinity that is manifest in the sacred wolf.

Throughout the piece, Nick’s double bass variously evoked the sounds of the landscape’s infinity, the howl of the wolf, the thunder of horses hooves, and the climactic importuning of grace for the land, the wolf and the human spirit.

And, for much of the work, Nick’s bass sounded like the horsehead fiddle played by the people who live in felt tents.

As one who has traveled extensively in Mongolia, I would rate Maestro Scales superior to the Mongol masters of the instrument, and, with the addition of perhaps throat-singing or long-song, suggest that he arrange bookings in Ulan Bator, but not in winter!

Nick then treated the audience to an encore by Francoise Rabbath entitled Espana. The composer is arguably the world’s premier double-bass pedagogue, known for his technique of pivoting. Nick’s performance, all finger work, credits the artistic vision of Rabbath.

The concert was book-ended by American composers with the final number the 1894 Allegro di molto from Symphony No. 2 (Gaelic) by Amy Beach. This work was the first symphony by an American woman, also one of the first composers on this side of the pond to have no European training.

The movement opens powerfully, and sustains its impetus like an advancing army. Anyone looking for a soft, feminine touch in this confident work will meet disappointment.

What a splendid performance by the WTAMU Symphony, such judicious selections by Dr. Mark Bartley and such supreme artistry by Dr. Nicholas Scales!

All of the above is a major reason we can say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

March 4, 2019: Boris Konovalov Piano Recital; Featured Art Steven Cost

Boris Konovalov
Feb 22. 2019

The evening of Feb. 22, Dr. Boris Konovalov performed Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Brahms at The Grace Hamilton Piano Festival Guest Recital at Northern Recital Hall on the WTAMU campus.

The festival is a celebration named for the Amarillo pianist who helped found the Amarillo Symphony and served as its first conductor and awards a scholarship prize to the winner of the competition.

Originally from Novosibirsk, Siberia, Maestro Konovalov boasts an impressive resume of prizes, positions and performance venues. He has released six CD’s and currently lives in Vancouver.

He began the program by his own arrangement of Schubert waltzes, a prerogative assumed by a number of composers.

The Maestro took immediate control of the keyboard, the sound reflecting his mastery of technique.

Some of the themes are very waltzy, imparting visions of an Alpine meadow filled with spring flowers. Other themes are a bit of a stretch, conjuring martial images like a cavalry charge, or maybe a buffalo stampede. After all, the buffalo is the school mascot.

Whatever the theme, the Schubert was a delight to hear, and Dr. Konovalov made the Steinway sing to the entire auditorium.

The major part of the program consisted of Rachmaninoff with selections ranging from the reflective to the raucous.

The “Elegie Op. 3 No. 1” actually fits the first adjective and exists in stark contrast to the powerful poundings of some of the preludes.

This piece is a post-mortem, but hardly maudlin as the composer invites the listener to share happy memories of lost loves and lives.

The next two selections, “Melodie” and “Polichinelle” are from “Morceaux de Fantaisie” written in 1892 and dedicated to one of his teachers Anton Arensky.

“Melodies” which was revised in 1941 for unknown reasons, begins with a left-handed melody and then right-handed accompaniment, which ultimately becomes quite complex, with the artist using crossed hands to enhance the evocative quality.

The “Polichinelle” is playful and delightful, but still strong. It’s hard to credit the composer’s assertion that he had a lifelong battle with chronic lassitude, with the stunning energy these works radiate.

Dr. Konovalov played five preludes, the most famous, of course, the “C-sharp minor” drawn from the same suite as the “Melodie” and “Polichinelle.”

The fff chordal triad marking the beginning is as well-known as the four note opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. And the deft touch of the maestro showed in the marked contrast between strong and soft, leaving the audience in Rachmaninoff Elysium.

The final number on the program was the “‘Variations on a Theme by Paganini,” Bks 1 and 2. Each book opens with Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24 in A minor” followed by fourteen variations.

Brahms, in capturing the musical soul of “the devil’s violinist” reveals himself possessed of a bit of Der Teufel. And Boris Konovalov rendered these pieces with fiendish intensity, possibly exorcising the demon within.

“World-class” has become a hackneyed phrase, but that is exactly what we were treated to this evening in the heart of cowboy country, a world-class performance by the All-Russia grand champion pianist.

It was with regrets that we left the realm of the arts to return to reality. But that is a frequent feeling we’ve come to know on the High Plains.

Our thanks to Denise Parr-Scanlon and Dr. Robert Hansen for arranging this splendid occasion. And, with even more reason we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

Upcoming Events: WTAMU Mar 4: “Opera Cowgirls” and Graduate Band Concert; AC Mar 5, Piano Series; Chamber Music Amarillo, Mar 9.