October 14, 2019: Amarillo Symphony, September 21

The Amarillo Symphony
September 21, 2019
Globe News Center

The Amarillo Symphony inaugurated its 95th season with a world premier, and three roughly contemporaneous European works whose further connection is a matter of conjecture. Maestro Jacomo Bairos conducted.

Chris Rogerson, currently on the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, as well as advisor to Amarillo Symphony, was its former composer-in-residence. His impressive list of commissions include major symphonies as well as well-known ensembles. In addition, he boasts quite a pedigree of pedagogues, including Jennifer Higdon and Michael Tilson-Thomas.

The Symphony appropriately heralded the evening’s program with Fanfare, a short, but attention grabbing work announced by brass bravura. It does remind one of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which remains popular. May Rogerson’s work do likewise, but we can always say, ‘We heard it first!’

The second work, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, was written in 1878, at Lake Geneva while the composer was recovering from a disastrous marriage. The aerobic virtuosity required by the soloist, as well as the work’s inherent Slavic bias forestalled its premier until 1881, when it received mixed reviews. Now it is one of the Russian’s most played works.

The soloist for this work, Jennifer Koh, definitely moved the needle on the voltmeter. Most visibly, her coiffure literally vibrated from the frenetic energy of her performance. Her input only enhanced the emotional roller-coaster that attends this piece, leaving an appreciative audience in awe. Besides the prolonged standing ovation, Ms. Koh certainly earned a cheeseburger for her exertions!

The third work of the evening was Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon o f a Faun. Again, the perceived conservatism of this area belies the courageous embrace of the arts, irrespective of content.

Though the music premiered in the 1890’s, portraying Mallarme’s poem which celebrated unhindered sexuality, the cultural counter remains relevant.

The orchestra responded to the interpretive dynamics of Maestro Bairos to engage the audience in an aural rainbow. The interplay of woodwinds, especially, created a tension and soundscape worthy of Debussy aficionados anywhere on the planet.

Finally, who was the greatest Russian composer? Why Alexander Scriabin. Just ask him.

Like Einstein, attempting to resolve a unified field theory, Scriabin, with psychotic hubris, proposed a grand musical work to provide the listener with total cosmic comprehension. Messianically, towards that end he composed the Poem of Ecstasy.

A major characteristic of this work is a lack of tonal resolution aligned with an arrhythmia which corresponds to the Genesis description of creation without form and void.

Two dynamic resolutions exist, which leave the work open to various interpretations, ranging from the sexual to the spiritual. Needless to say, it ain’t dull!

It’s hard to find a common thread twixt these last three works unless one goes baseline and primal. Perhaps it’s just the fact that all three could be called contemporaries.

Regardless, the Amarillo audience was able to judge this music on its own merits, which were impactful and transporting, and in one instance, a world premier.

Congratulations to the conductor for his choices, and to all of the performers for stepping up to the musical plate.

Works of this quality, right here in Cowboy Country, are one reason we can proudly say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

October 5, 2019: “Legally Blonde” and “Songs For a New World”

The opening week of the Amarillo Arts Season featured not one, but two musicals: Legally Blonde, which had a three weekend run on ALT’s mainstage, and Songs for a New World which showed for two weeks at WTAMU.

Curtain Call
Legally Blonde
ALT Sept 13

Many cliches are almost apt for Legally Blonde: stereotypes on steroids; girly and garish; simultaneously pink and powerful.

This play is the product of playwright Heather Hach, with music and lyrics by Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe and drawn from the original novel by Amanda Brown as well as the motion picture.

The precis of the performance is sorority girl Elle Woods, dumped by fantasized fiance Warner because she doesn’t align with his projected trajectory of greatness, follows him to Harvard Law School to win him back.

There, she digs deep in a revelatory odyssey that is actualizing and empowering, negotiating social and academic minefields along which a sequence of credible role reversals take place, including rejection of her former heartthrob, now suppliant and quasi-penitent.

The plot is complex, the sequencing intense and demanding, with many of the large number of roles requiring that trifecta of performance: singing, dancing and acting.

And where can Director Jason Crespin, Music Director Jennifer Akins and Choreographer Beth Alexander find that huge amount of extraordinary talent? Right here in Amarillo, Texas!

It’s possible to note only a few of huge cast, chief among whom is Elle, played by Terry Martin, a West Coast theatre and screen veteran whose stage credits attest to the omnicompetence of her talent spectrum.

Leigh Anne Crandall played Paulette the hairdresser, whose Bostonian southside accent sounded systemic, who intuits and embraces the inner Elle.

The most complex character arc is in Vivienne, played by Amber Spaulding, who morphs from snobbish social climber to sincere social activist.

Ryan Sustaita, in contrast to the jerk jock he played in Heathers, is patient, kind, attentive and genuine, everything Elle’s ex wasn’t.

Patrick Swindell, locally recognized arts afficionado and patron, played the puissant and profound Professor Callahan, whose feet of clay become crucial to Elle’s empowerment.

And let’s not forget the pawformances of Bentley and Maverick who totally captured their canine characters, as well as the hearts of the audience.

This show had pace and punch, and a pool of talent consistent with far larger metropolitan areas. But wait: the stage still beckoned the first week of the arts season.

The second play was staged by the WTAMU Theatre Dept. at the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre.

Curtain Call
Songs for a New World
WTAMU – Sept 14

Songs For a New World, originally produced by the WPA Theatre in NYC in 1995, was created by Jason Robert Brown, who also composed the music.

The production staff was larger than the cast of ten, who multi-tasked their many roles with facility, like the director Bradley J. Behrmann who also played piano.

The audience enjoyed a dinner theatre ambience with couches and drink tables facing a stunning stage designed by Brock Burton.

The play/musical’s premise is about leaving the comfort zone and braving the unknown, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually.

The costuming, super casual chic, was incidental to the profound and poignant messages in the music, with only a few of the nineteen numbers noted.

The second ensemble takes place on the deck of a Spanish ship in 1492, literally bound for a new world. Rejene Phillips belts out a powerful message about racial equality in The Steam Train.

Adam Hainsel and Lauren Landtroop, the latter in a part so different from Heathers, sang a moving duet about a divorced couple contemplating reconciliation in I’d Give it All for You.

Finally Cynthia Morin offered a stirring performance in Flying Home, about that new world all face as we leave this mortal coil.

All of the elements of the production, whether it was the actors, directors, stage, crew and musicians, moved flawlessly like the many parts of a Rolex. Small wonder that the Theatre Department has entered this work in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The Panhandle cultural arts area extends ‘Break a Leg’ wishes.

Because of the prevalence of both provocative as well as major plays throughout the season, Amarillo area theatre goers have access to national-class stage.

That theatre is only one facet of the gem that is the Amarillo arts scene, we say, at the start of this arts season, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

Sept. 24: Chamber Music Amarillo – Sept 12, 2019

Korenchuk, Bishop, Tan
Elizabeth de la Guerre
CMA-Sept 12

Friday the thirteenth was a lucky day, a Good Friday for the arts in Amarillo. Not only did it mark the opening week of the Arts Season, but it also was the opening concert for Chamber Music Amarillo’s 2019/2020 year.

The theme was “Celebrating Women in the Arts,” and a crowd of about one hundred heard works of Elizabeth de la Guerre, Amy Beach and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, played by violinist Natalia Korenchuk, cellist Jayson Bishop and Lucy Tan on both piano and harpsichord. Dr. Kimberly Heib and Greg Rohloff joined the artists in a pre-program talk.

Ain’t these purdy!
Fazioli 278 Grand
Kevin Fryer Op. 24

CMA has to be one of the few, if not the only organization in the country to possesss both a 24 and a 278! Pretty damn impressive for Cowboy Country!

The first works on the program were Sonata No. 2 and Sonata No.1 for violin and continuo in d major by Elizabeth de la Guerre, 1665 – 1729. The composer, because of her performance ability, was accepted into the court of Louis XIV with the Marquise de Montespan, the reigning royal mistress overseeing her instruction (See Versailles on Netflix-informative but naughty!).

Though she composed in a variety of forms, her first published work was a book of harpsichord compositions. She would also become the first Frenchwoman to compose an opera, Cephalus and Procris from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Her work, in many ways typical of late Baroque, embraces a harpsichord obligato, allowing the artist considerable performance latitude, imparting a flowery ornamentation. It makes it easy to imagine an appreciative audience of bewigged, cosmetically-burdened aristocrats in Parisian salons.

In the opening Presto the violin opens with a cello answer, the harpsichord providing ongoing background. Guess that’s why it’s termed continuo. The dialogue between the strings made this listener wish for more from the harpsichord, but this otherwise glorious instrument doesn’t do dynamics very well.

The Sonata no. 1 has three Prestos, which, curiously, exhibit more of an Andante character, becoming at times almost morose. Perhaps the composer is inferring that all is not sweetness and light under the reign of the Sun King.

The third number before intermission was the Piano trio in a minor by Amy Beach, the first American female composer of large ensemble music, and the first American composer not to have European training.

In fact, a cursory reading of her richly-lived life proves again that truth is stranger than fiction. She certainly broke the glass ceiling in her lifetime, becoming well-respected both in the US and in Europe.

In the Adagio, Beach shows the strong emotional content and surging dynamics characteristic of the Romantic movement. In the Lento the composer snaps out of her reverie, a feeling fully expressed in the Allegro.

In other words, Amy Beach, and the three artists performing her work take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster which winds up in a happy place.

Prior to Performance
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel

The Amarillo area has witnessed a Renaissance of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel the last two years, with various works both at WTAMU and CMA.

Long in the shadow of her brother Felix, Fanny’s prodigious skills in both performance and composition are now recognized. She composed more than 460 works, the Piano Trio being her last. Prevailing social norms militated against publication in her own name, although some were published under her brother’s name and others pseudonymously.

An arpeggiated piano opening is joined by the violin and cello in the introduction of the Allegro molto vivace. The composer’s obvious instrumental preference is confidently asserted by pianist Lucy Tan, whose dynamics are not inhibited as when playing the harpsichord.

The Andante expressivo is deliberate, in contrast to the energy of the first movement, whereas the short Lied is wistful.

The Finale opens with a protracted piano solo which becomes almost a soliloquy, though, when joined by the strings, this movement becomes increasingly active, robust and complex, a good profile of the composer’s oeuvre.

What a splendid first Friday of the Arts Season! And all right here in what is the geographically-largest cultural arts district in Texas. Yee-Haw!

Our thanks to the incredible David Palmer, artistic director of CMA, whose efforts frequently turn the fine arts spotlight on Amarillo, and for the sponsors and musicians for making the unexpected in the arts just part of we in Amarillo have come to expect.

With the same assertion that Lucy Tan played the Fazioli, we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

Sept. 20, 2019: The Ladd Lectures AMOA – Sept. 12

Dr. Richard Brettell
The History of the Louvre
The Ladd Lectures
Sept 12, 2019

The twelfth annual Ladd Lecture was hosted by the Amarillo Museum of Art September 12 and featured Dr. Richard Brettell presenting a seven century history of the Louvre Museum. These lectures are sponsored by Peggy Ladd in memory of the late Frank Ladd and feature world-class authorities in the arts.

Richard Brettell, from the University of Texas at Dallas and with an extensive c.v, is in a class by himself. Yet, he is no stranger to Amarillo, this marking his third Ladd presentation.

Just imagine a combination of effortless articulate erudition punctuated by gossipy humor, a rare combination of comedy and culture, and you have an image of the esteemed professor.

A full house at the Amarillo College Concert Hall Theatre gathered to hear his presentation, in which he announced at the onset to depict the Louvre as a complicated palimpsest of buildings showing an architectural evolution over seven centuries. And, he kept the audience in rapt thrall as he waxed eloquently palimpsestic for an hour.

Some key facts were salient, at least to his listener, presented either as startling revelations or as whimsical arcana.

For instance, the modern Louvre dates to the Second Empire, when it became the epicenter of Baron Hausmann’s Paris renovation, who demolished slums in, yes in and around the museum. Renoir was a child in the Louvrian slum.

Prior to that, for two centuries the Louvre Palace was largely a ruin, with the showplace for art being the Palais Royale. In 1791, largely with art confiscated from the aristocracy and the Church, the Louvre opened as the first art museum in history and the prototype for American museums, democratically asserting that the enjoyment of fine art is for all.

The Grand Gallery began as a promenade for aristocrats and the idea for skylights arose from the gaping holes left when the roof tumbled down.

Finally Dr. Brettell took the audience through the life saga of Marie de Medici as portrayed by Peter Paul Rubens. Though some of the works are adulatory, overall the sequence does not tell a happy story.

A Thursday evening precis on the history of the Louvre and the famous Rubens paintings, out here on the barren plains of Texas: ostensibly strange, but, in the arts, very appropriate.

Our thanks to Peggy Ladd and her family for sponsorship, and to the hosts, AMOA. Because of such generosity and collaboration, exceptional artistic events are, in Amarillo, a common occurrence, especially during the arts season.

This makes it easy to say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

Sept. 17, 2019: Duo Miroirs – AC Piano Series, Sept 10, 2019

Duo Miroirs
Antonello D’Onofrio
Claudio Soviero
AC Concert Hall Theatre
Sept. 10, 2019

The Italian piano duo of Antonello D’Onofrio and Claudio Soviero initiated the Amarillo College Piano Series September 10 in the Amarillo College Concert Hall Theatre. These virtuosi, called Duo Miroirs, are based in Milan, and are recognized as one of the world’s outstanding four-handed piano duets.

A nice crowd was exposed to the magnificent potential of the Shigeru Kawai grand as these maestros from Milan demonstrated the instrument’s capacity under twenty fingers.

The first work, off-program but a nod to Beethoven’s 25oth birthday, was his Sonata Op.6 from 1797. This two movement piece, which had no immediate public performance, is thought to be a didactic device, since, at this time, the impecunious Beethoven had to accept students to make ends meet.

The number has a delightful, minuettish feel. Significant in the Allegretto is a three short note, one long note motiff which possibly foreshadows the most famous introduction in history from Symphony No. 5.

The second selection was Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, which was originally scored for several instruments but in 1906 was recast for two pianos which Duo Miroirs obviously modified.

The Introduction and Allegro which opened with a solid melody and embellished arpeggiation, has an evolving complexity that proved a real treat for the audience.

Bernard Herman, 1911-1975, wrote film scores for Hollywood, which after the premier he would arrange as suites: thus his Psycho Suite, a narrative of eleven scenes from the movie.

This piece began ominously, with heavy-handed chords, then thematic alteration between the players that was truly psychotic in its instability. These artists made the Shigeru sound like it belonged in the home of the Adams Family.

The gentlemen from Milano also feted the audience with Concertino by Dimitri Shostakovich, composed in 1953 as two piano duet for his son but modified by the artists for one instrument.

The piece shouts Shostakovich, from the propensity to frenzy to the alternating emphasis on rhythm and melody. The composer keeps the listener on edge and D’Onofrio and Soviero did the Russian master justice.

The duo performed a second Ravel, Spanish Rhapsody. This four-part piece began as a Habanera in 1895 for two pianos, to which, in 1907, he added additional segments: Prelude to the Night; Malaguena; Feria. The whole series was orchestrated the following year.

The artists probed the emotional depths of each segment, making Spain resonate through their fingertips. The dynamics range from the evocative first movement, describing a calm sea, to the wild abandon of the celebratory Feria.

Soviero and D’Onofrio gave the Amarillo audience all they could ask for, and, in one number, even plucked the strings from the Shigeru’s soundbox. And all this on the plains of Texas! What a superb way to launch the 2019/20 arts season!

Ain’t never seen this!

Our gratitude goes not only to these world-class pianists, but also to Dr. Diego Caetano for arranging this performance with help from Art Force and the AC administration, especially Camille Day Nies, Music and Theatre Department Chair, and Rebecca Easton, Dean of Liberal Arts. The result of this amazing collaboration enables us to say, looking forward to this arts season, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

But wait…….there’s more.

Seems like our itinerant Italians almost missed a Dallas flight because one had a credit card and the other an American license, and they tried to rent a car. Houston, we have a problem!

Flights proved impossible budget busters and the bus arrived too late. Enter David Palmer, artistic director of Chamber Music Amarillo who offered his beloved Mustang convertible for the distance, to which they responded, grazi molto and addio! An Italian driver and hot American wheels means a fast trip.

David, Michelle, Diego and Nate drove down Saturday night and corralled the Mustang and rode it home, with two amazing pianists going the other direction but anxious to return to showcase their talent. They might even bring their driving gloves and goggles in case a certain engine needs revving up.

Sept. 12, 2019: First Friday Art Walk – Redux

Anne Crouch
First Friday Originator

A smiling photo of Anne Crouch greeted visitors in the foyer of Barnes Jewelry, the new host for the First Friday Art Walk.

The recrudescence of the FFAW enjoyed a very positive public response, according to Bill Archinal, the COO/GM of Barnes, with 436 people coming through the doors during the first two hours.

Barnes Jewelry
Venue for FFAW

Archinal went on to elaborate the process by which Barnes assumed responsibility for continuing this cherished cultural tradition. He said that first, Barnes had display space for artists; secondly, store management felt that some entity would quickly quickly offer artists a new outlet, and Barnes needed to be first in line.

He then related that artist Mary Solomon was contacted and asked whether any of her former colleagues at Sunset Center would be interested in a new place to showcase their creativity. Solomon responded within a few days with a list of “Heck Yea’s!”

Altogether some twenty-three artists have agreed to rent space and all were present for the Alpha Art Walk, some of whose works are noted below.

Mary Solomon: Artist

The large flowers of Mary Solomon instantly call to mind Georgia O’Keeffe, but against a black background they have a Neo-Baroque cast.

Jim Kiper
“Trophies of War”

Jim Kiper draws much of his inspiration from the nine years he spent at his grandfather’s Cochise Ranch in New Mexico. His sculpture, Trophies of War, is a striking portrayal of a Comanche warrior with an attitude. The accoutrements of his victim, a cavalryman, are in hand, including the Soldier Blue’s scalp.

Bobbie Mason
Wind Chimes

Bobbie Mason repurposes heavy stainless steel piping as incredible wind chimes, each producing a deep ongoing resonance, like a Tibetan chant. Several of these in the backyard would provide a pleasing alternative to the Grackles.

The ambience of this art walk was refined, yet relaxed, tres cultive et classieux, in a gemstone context with wine bar. The staff of Barnes seemed genuinely happy to see the hundreds walk through the door, and stood ready to help if someone wanted a closer look at their art under the glass.

This site is a good fit to perpetuate the vision of Anne Crouch. Hopefully the event will, after such a splendid start, continue to grow, attracting numbers consistent with Sunset Center.

That location’s probable demolition, with the ensuing termination of First Friday, has caused much grief and regret in this community.

But, thanks to Barnes Jewelry, that hallowed Amarillo tradition has enjoyed a new lease on life, helping to “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”

Sept. 9, 2019 – Amarillo Master Chorale, 40 Yr Reunion Concert

Dr. Nathaniel Fryml
Amarillo Master Chorale
August 24, 2019

The Amarillo Master Chorale christened the 2019/2020 concert season with a fortieth anniversary reunion concert held at the Amarillo College Concert Hall Theater August 24th. The conductors were the four men who have served in that capacity for the various iterations of the chorale over the past four decades.

The choristers demonstrated their talent by performing eight challenging numbers, including one in Latin, with only one day’s practice.

The AMC opened with Jane Marshall’s I Will Extol Thee from Psalms 145 and under the direction of Dr. Nathaniel Fryml, current artistic director. This piece has a soprano opening followed by a layering of tenors. The word “exuberance” defines this work, which ends with an incredible “Amen.”

Dr. Fryml would later conduct The Road Home by Stephen Paulus, which has a wordless opening and strikes this listener as a stream of consciousness bespeaking longing and hope, a sense amplified by the soprano of Cathy Weber.

Dr. George Biffle, founder of the then Civic Chorus, led the ensemble in two different works, the first Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal, a product of Alice Parker, longtime primary arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale.

This work pulsed: the downbeat of each 3/4 triad was emphasized like a vocal percussion section. This is the second work of Alice Parker done by the AMC within the last year, and, like the first, connected the audience to America’s past, to the Second Great Awakening, when the country’s westward surge was seen as proof of divine providence.

Dr. Biffle’s second work with the Chorale, was John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth. This piece was just a lovely, lilting prayer of thanksgiving, in contrast to the assertiveness of the previous song.

Dr. Richard Nance
Lee Kindle – baritone
Russell Steadman cello
Dr. Noel-Paul Laur piano

Dr. Richard Nance, artistic director of the Civic Chorus from 1985 – 1992 and now at Pacific Lutheran University, directed the Gloria from Haydn’s Paukenmesse, or, as it is sometimes called, Mass in the Time of War.

This work was written in 1796 during Austria’s war with revolutionary France. The virtual absence of martial overtones has led some critics to maintain that the piece is really anti-war in sentiment.

Regardless, this work is pure Poppa Haydn, textbook classical and grandiloquent. A protracted baritone solo by Lee Kindle was answered by the chorus and soprano Paige Brown. The cello of Russell Steadman complimented the piano of Dr. Noel-Paul Laur. who accompanied the Master Chorale in all of the numbers this evening.

It was under Richard Nance’s leadership that the Civic Chorus, teaming with the WTAMU University Chorale and the Amarillo Symphony, performed Beethoven’s Ninth. Thirty years would elapse before the Ninth would again grace an Amarillo audience.

Dr. Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber, presently choral director at Wayland Baptist University, was artistic director of the Amarillo Master Chorale for twenty-four years, conducted the singers in two numbers.

The first, Where Your Bare Foot Walks, is based on a Coleman Bark’s translation of Rumi and very benedictive in nature. The song becomes a gaggle of co-existing parts, like the tongues of men, which coalesce to swell in unison.

The second work, Let Peace Then Still the Strife by Mack Wilberg, as the title suggests, is a beautiful prayer for peace. Opening with a first tenor lead, the lyricism becomes strongly hymnal.

Dr. Dale Roller, who as chairman of the music department at Amarillo College, oversaw AC’s affiliation with the Civic Chorus, directed the final number, The Lord Bless You and Keep You by Peter C. Lutkin, with music provided in the program.

Dr. Fryml invited all former singers with the group to join the AMC on stage, and perhaps ten emerged from the audience. On a personal note, after thirty years, my bass sounded pretty good. Of course, I was standing next to Steven Weber.

This concert fulfilled a noble vision while celebrating the impact of all those who have contributed their time and talent these last four decades.

Amarillo can be justly proud of its Meistersingers, whose music ranks as professional quality. These glorious sounds only enhance Amarillo’s artistic aura, enabling us to say as the 2019/2020 arts season is upon us: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!