First Presbyterian Church, on December 7, was the site for the second annual Messiah sing along, sponsored by Amarillo Operaand underwritten by People’s Federal Credit Union and Dr.’s Victoria Thompson and Ray Martin.
The event filled the auditorium, with the chorus, all Messiah junkies from the community, sitting in loosely-defined sections. Together we sang five numbers, variously directed by Jerry Perales, Dr. Steve Weber and Billy Talley.
The orchestra was the keyboard of the incredible Goad organ, played in turn by Rick Land, Norman Goad and Michael Mitchell. News flash: Amarillo now has two world-class calliopes; the Aeolian-Skinner at St. Andrews and the Goad at First Presbyterian.
Mary Jane Johnson, international opera star and leading lady of the Metropolitan, now on the Amarillo College faculty and Artistic Director of Amarillo Opera, gave all a down-home Panhandle welcome, and enjoined all to start warbling.
Three of the eight soloists, all professional vocalists, are noted. Antonio Charles and Sean Milligan, baritone and bass, gave strong performances in Thus Saith the Lord, and For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth. Their voices, as befits trained opera singers, were strong, confident, and resonant.
Paige Brown’s sparkling soprano sang with clarity in three recitatives, beginning with There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Fields, and effectively followed by the ad hoc chorus singing Glory to God in the Highest. Not bad for a one and done!
The Hallelujah Chorus was a true stand and sing! The combined effect of the bonified as well as aspirant singers was thrilling! For anyone present not feeling the full charge of Christmas spirit, there’s probably a part for Ebeneezer Scrooge that needs your audition.
Congratulations to Mary Jane and Amarillo Opera for an even more successful seasonal Messiah. Gratitude is also extended to the sponsors, soloists, performers and directors who made it possible for singers from the community-at-large to take part.
This is just another reason to say, “Merry Christmas!” and “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”
The last Tchaikovsky Competition winner I remember in Amarillo was a night in January, 1966, in the full blow of a Panhandle blizzard, to hear a Texan named Van Cliburn.
Fast forward to December 3, when a lucky few heard a transplanted Texan, Andrey Ponochevny, bronze medal winner of the 2002 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, give a mesmerizing performance of Beethoven’s last three sonatas.
This program was arranged by Dr. Diego Caetano, Amarillo College Professor of Piano, and sponsored by Art Force. In his brief pre-concert remarks Diego remarked that securing Andrey’s commitment to play these three sonatas was the inspiration to devote this year’s series to performing all thirty-two.
And, in case readers missed an earlier brag, Amarillo College is the only place in Texas where one can hear every sonata!
The audience realized, after Maestro Ponochevny’s first phrases, why he is a Tchaikovsky medalist. Every note and nuance of Beethoven’s compositions sang with vibrant clarity , and for an hour Amarillo College was the center of the Beethoven piano universe.
LVB composed No. 30 in 1820 and dedicated the piece to the daughter of a friend. He allegedly took time from the Missa Solemnis to work on another manuscript, when his secretary suggested that a sketch from this new work might satisfy a sonata requested by his publisher. So, he killed two birds, as it were.
Half of this sonata involves the third movement, in which Beethoven appropriates considerable liberties with the traditional form. Which means, among other things, that Beethoven doesn’t allow comfort to burden the listener, having no problem going, in only one note, from peaceable kingdom to charge!
If such dynamics and mood shifts posed a challenge, Maestro Ponochevny seemed to embrace and relish them. This movement, by turns, is lyrical, then bouncy, then manic with arpeggiation, then menacing, with the left growling in the bass cleft, then concluding with the deliberate keyboarding of the beginning.
Sonata no. 31 was composed in 1821, with final delivery complicated by bouts with jaundice and rheumatism. Apparently Ludwig had more to deal with than deafness.
The third movement has doubles of “Langsam” and “Fuguish,” which often results in this section’s declaration as two separate.It becomes quite involved , terminating with strong chords and melodic runs. As always, Beethoven taunts the complacent.
Sonata no. 32, bridging 1821 – 22, was dedicated to the composer’s friend and patron, the Archduke Rudolf.
Unusually, this piece has only two movements, but they pack a punch. The Maestoso has a bipolar opening, alternating twixt anger and playfulness, connected by intense runs.
This playful quality, in the Arietta, exudes an almost jazzy vibe, anticipating the new American sound by nearly a century. But, this harbinger is sandwiched by sections that possess hymnal, ethereal and mystical qualities.
Perhaps the composer, after the chaos of the Napoleonic era, is calling for order in the world. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s still messing with our minds.
The audience enjoyed the rare privileges of hearing a truly world-class artist playing some of Beethoven’s most demanding sonatas, and all from the head and the heart. No scores, and this made the Concert Hall Theatre truly a musical paradise.
As the only Texans to have this opportunity, we exult in the addage, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”
If one describes music as “transporting” in its aesthetic effect, the adjective assumed the literal on November 2 when the WTAMU Brass Quintet lifted the audience from the High Plains of Texas only to settle them in the transept of San Marco Cathedral in Venice.
Dr. Guglielmo Manfredi revealed in the pre-concert talk that when the Quintet performed in Italy, the Italians, normally a critical audience, loved their playing. The Amarillo audience would soon concur.
The first work, Five Dances from “The Danserye” by Tylman Susato, a Flemish composer, set the tone. Interesting that the composer was the first in the low countries to use movable type and his establishment in Antwerp flaunted the marquee, At the Sign of the Crumhorn!
La Mourisque was splendid with an incredibly regal sound. The dynamics touched the incredible, all the more impressive as the tuba served as a tonal anchor.
Bransle Quatre Bransles featured a trumpet lead with trombone and French Horn supplying depth with the result assuming an almost madrigal sound.
All instruments came together in the final movement, Basse Danse Bergeret, creating an absolutely joyful sound! All of this overlaying the continuo of Harley’s and diesel pickups going down Sixth Street.
In the pre-concert talk, trumpet player Bill Takacs observed that the brass quintet, which originated in Canada,has been in existence long enough to generate a substantial number of scores, rendering transcription largely unnecessary.
Nevertheless, Dr. Manfredi noted that Bach originally composed for the keyboard, but good musicians did then what they do now: appropriate the tune for different instrumentation.Is that another way of saying, “stealing?”
In the two works from Bach, Contrapunctus IX from Art of the Fugue, and My Spirit Be Joyful, the two trumpets, which set at the ends of the five musician semi-circle, created their own antiphonal effect.
That amplified the counterpoint, with each of the other instruments then tuning on the trumpets, creating a magically Baroque sound.
The admitted favorite of the group, The Iron Horse, by Kevin McKee and originally commissioned by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, took the listeners on a steam-powered locomotive ride through northern California.
This piece evoked the American West with its mountainous landscape, and, like an engine gathering power, begins slow, then accelerates, first to double and then triple tonguing complimented by whistle blasts from the lower bases. That sound might have put some Harleys in their place.
According to Dr. Manfredi, Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli convinced clerics that the instruments in his compositions replicated the human voice, so the prelates allowed Gabrieli’s compositions in San Marco.Gabrieli’s connivance then set the trend for composers of religious music throughout Europe.
Canzones 2 and 4, made famous by the Canadian Brass, were on tonight’s program. Asked whether the antiphonal arrangement with much larger ensembles for Gabrieli’s works necessitated any modification by the quintet, the answer was no, referencing again the placement of the end trumpets.
The, just for fun, the quintet concluded with The Saints Hallelujah, a mash-up of Handel and Satchmo. It had the audience wanting to stomp and clap!
So, as the days shorten and the winter looms, we in the isolated ranch land of the Panhandle heard Bach and Gabrieli in all their brassy glory.
With such quality and unique artistry, we can affirm with certain augery, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”
Not a thread, but a chain of heavy linage connects two concerts of the Amarillo College Piano Series sponsored by Art Force: namely, the corpus of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.
The consistency becomes most impactful considering Amarillo, specifically this series at Amarillo College directed by Dr. Diego Caetano, stands as the only place in Texas, where, this year, lucky audiences will hear all thirty-two of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. It’s just the Panhandle’s way of saying, “Happy 250th birthday, Ludwig!”
Dr. Jim Rauscher, retired chair of the Amarillo CollegeMusic Department, performed at the Concert Hall Theatre on October 8, playing three works: Sonata No. 8 in C Minor; Sonata No. 22 in F Major; Sonata No. 15 in D Major. The work that stood out was the Sonata No. 8, also known as the Pathetique.
The sheer power of this sonata demanded a stronger instrument frame with a wider keyboard. A married couple in Vienna engaged in piano-making, the Streichers, began customizing pianos to fit LVB’s needs: hence, the beginnings of the concert grand!
Written in 1798 when the composer was twenty seven and premiered in 1798, the piece was named Pathetique by the publisher who felt the Sturm und Drang embodied in the work.
The exception to the emotional vortex is the second movement, whose lyrical cantabilehas been appropriated in modern times for stage musicians, television, cinema and radio programs.
This section has a soft tenderness analogous to a mother cradling her baby and reveals an emotional facet of Beethoven’s makeup otherwise masked by the fierce complexity of much of his other work.
The audience felt fortunate to again hear Jim’s artistry on the incomparable Shigeru Kawai grand, whetting our musical appetites for more of Beethoven’s sonatas.
Dr. Lucy Tan, artist-in-residence at Oklahoma Panhandle State University played three more of Beethoven’s sonatas in a November 12 concert at the AC Concert Hall Theatre: No. 26; No. 21; No. 16.
The sonata with the most telling story line is No. 26, titled Les Adieux.
The probable genesis for this work is Bonaparte’s attackon Vienna in 1809, which forced the government, including the emperor, to flee.
Beethoven’s had previously manifested his detestation of the little Corsican’s kleptomania of other countries and their cultural treasures: evidence his dedicatory switch in Symphony No. 4. No surprise that the composer’s sympathies did not lie with the Grande Armee.
The first movement variously posits a triad theme, aligned to the syllables of Lebewohl (Farewell) to portray both the turbulent and pensive qualities associated with this Austrian exodus.
The second, Abwesenhiet (Absence) is very emotional with the artist allowed a rhythmic latitude to amplify the feeling. But that feeling is one of heartache, not of heartbreak.
The third movement, Das Wiedersehen (The Return) is happy with intense arpeggiation, like a faithful dog on again seeing its master.
This sonata embodies elevated emotions of a national character, which pose a challenge to any concert pianist. Dr. Tan not only rose to that challenge but raised the bar on its performance. She threw her entire being into No. 26, deftly modulating the composer’s thematic intricacies for the benefit of the listeners.
And to think that we, out on the barren plains of the Texas Panhandle, should be blessed with artists like Lucy Tan and Jim Rauscher to musically reveal Beethoven’s sonatasin this special anniversary year is truly a magnum mysterium.
That this series stands as the only one in Texas to bring all of Beethoven’s sonatas to the stage is due to the vision of Dr. Diego Caetano, AC Professor of Music, the generosity of the Art Force and the collaboration of Amarillo College.
And, do not forget the receptivity of a very enlightened and appreciative audience, all of which allows us to aver “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”
The WTAMU choirs created celestial sounds in the new acoustical heaven on earth, Northern Recital Hall, in their fall choir concert, held October 18. Needless to say, the hall transformed the national-class quality of these singers into undeniably world-class!
Three groups performed: the Chamber Singers; the Collegiate Choir; the combined University Chorale and Collegiate Choir.Dr. Sean Pullen directed all of the singers, with single numbers directed by graduate conductors Allie Bryan, Lowell Castolenia and Anthony Vickery.
The selections in the program of the Chamber Singers ranged from Late Renaissance to modern, from liturgical to popular.
Thus, the contemporary work of Paul Becker, Missa Kenya. Becker held, among many positions, that of cultural affairs specialist for the Foreign Service in Kenya, and this Gloria, though in Latin, hops with tribal rhythms, drums and clapping. These exceptional young artists had no problem appropriating the Kenyan spirit in performance.
The Collegiate Choir sang a work in the Kalka dialect of Mongolia, a sound I haven’t heard since I did Ger B & B’s in the Gobito celebrate my retirement. After all, the Mongolian steppes have a great deal in common with the High Plains of Texas, so why shouldn’t a group of talented Texas collegians sing in Mongolian?
And, speaking of speaking in tongues, the combined choirs performed in six languages: Latin, English, German, French, Russian and Swahili! I have heard them sing in other languages in other concerts. Regardless, whether singing in Latin, Hebrew or Choctaw, these singers comport themselves as world-class!
Director Sean Pullen said that this was the best October choir he’s ever had. We look forward to hearing similar assessments as the school yearprogresses, because that means we’ll hear more of these singers.
This performance was both a privilege and a treat. And, because the singing allied with the world’s finest adjustable acoustical sound space, the sound was unmatched!
Because of quality artistry like the WTAMU choirs, which, like the Panhandle wind, is steady state, we similarly state with conviction, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”
Four local art shows are worth noting: the Amarillo Museum of Art Biennial 600; tape art at the Citadelle in Canadian, Texas; the High Plains Public Radio benefit at the Cerulean Gallery; the student exhibition of Dia de los Muertos in the Commons Gallery of the Fine Arts Complex at Amarillo College.
The eighth Biennial 600, a juried occasion held every two years and open to artists within a six-hundred mile radius of Amarillo, carried the theme of Textile + Fiber. Juror was Alex Unkovic, Exhibitions Manager for the Fabric Workshop and Museum of Philadelphia.
Textiles and fiber, starting with the clothes we wear, are the constant contact art form in our lives. This exhibition, then, explores ways in which textiles, as utilitarian, become conceptual art forms.
The first-place winner, Scottie Burgess, created a large work using carpet padding and colored bailing twine, with each knotted length signifying a continuum, an end whichbecomes a beginning.
Two Santa Fe artists present at the opening shared interesting insights about their work. Julie Nocent-Vigil used Hanji paper and a Korean thread technique to portray the tapestry of the plains, something to which we in the Panhandle can relate.
Kathleen McCloud’s work is informed by her time at an ashram in India and how Gandhi made weaving cloth a visible symbol of rebellion against tthe British Empire.
Jennifer Weigel’s work takes the viewer by surprise, illustrating the truism that, in the world of Amarillo art, the unexpected is the norm.
Tampons as jewelry? The artist’s assertive iconoclastic feminism openly assails the taboos and cult of silence surrounding menstruation by making the implements art.
Finally, Brenda Bunten-Schloesser, created a trio of quiltish sculptures. One, A Light, shown here, resonates with both Boccioni and Klimt.
This is a compelling exhibition, which posits the transformative potential realized by imagining the creative inherent in the common. Thanks to Alex Gregory and his staff for designing a quality show that is worth multiple visits.
October 17, Cerulean Gallery of Amarillo hosted an exhibition with a portion of the proceeds benefiting High Plains Public Radio.
Chief among the works displayed were several paintings by Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson, who, in an artist’s statement, notes that she paints passionately, spiritually and avocationally. An artist/mayor certainly personifies an artsy Amarillo!
One other painting among many worthy of mention is Near Neptune by Edward Cavasos. This Botticelliesque creation has a haunting pallor whose blood-red eyes long for love and acceptance.
October 19 was the first day of Fall Foliage Festival at Canadian, Texas, which mandated a pilgrimage to the Citadelle Art Museum.
The old First Baptist Church was repurposed by Dr. Malouf and Therese Abraham, first, as a family home, then as a venue to showcase their lifetime of artistic acquisition.
A separate pavilion houses temporary exhibitions, the current entitled Out of the Blue: A Tape Art Experience. This work, created by artists from the Rhode Island School of Design, depicting the degree to which digital domination defines our lives, is organic as well as ephemeral.
As soon as it’s finished, it’s ripped down, which the artists say they find thrilling. Go figure!
It’s always a pleasure to visit the permanent collection as well as the old home place, which has an aristocratic ambience combined with Texas friendly.
A fourth exhibit is worth noting: Dia de los Muertos by Amarillo College art students had its opening on Halloween in the Commons Gallery at AC.
Of course, expectations are that young artists from Hispanic backgrounds would most fully portray the impact of this celebration.
This yearly exhibition demonstrates that non-Hispanic students, thanks to guidance from gifted instructors like Professor Steven Cost, are able to intuit another cultural reality and express this event from their own experience. An example of this cross-cultural appropriation is Thriller de la Muertos by Michael Sebastian.
In the words of the artist, he was inspired by the day and John Landis’ depiction of Jackson “for a fun and interesting mash-up of pop culture and the Mexican holiday!”
A powerful work by Jeremiah Galan, entitled Refugio Cook Enriquez, portrays his grandfather, who first, loved his family with twelve children and thirty-five grandchildren. His next love was Nortena music, Ramon Ayala being his favorite musician. If this young artist’s talent is not professional grade, it is muy proxima!
Celeste Ramirez, in Our Ancestors, portrays the essential cultural conviction that we are each the embodiment of all of our ancestors. She therefore painted herself in traditional festive dress, bedecked with Dia de los Muertos flower petals, as she summoned forth her ancestors.
With such quality art, displayed in concurrent exhibitions, it’s easy to say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”
A full house gathered at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on October 12 to enjoy a combined concert of both Chamber Music Amarillo and Friends of Aeolian Skinner Organ society, which featured a world premier, one of the world’s finest performance organs, and, so the audience felt, a world-class performance!
A world premier, Towards the South Plains, by Harlan Hodges, albeit in abbreviated form, thrilled attendees. In addition, church organist Rick Land performed two Handel concertos and the Amarillo Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra played Sir Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings. All of this right here in Cowboy Country!
Though purists tout Bach as the father of the performance organ, more contemporary critics extol the virtues of George Frideric Handel regarding his contributions to the instrument.
But Handel had what, by comparison, was only the most basic manual instrument on which to perform, a pale flame compared to the blue-white splendor of the 1024.
Rick Land demonstrated his talent as well as the capacity of the Aeolian-Skinner in two works: Concerto in b-flat major; Concerto in d minor. In the latter work, the composer encouraged organo ad libitum allowing the performer to free-style. And, in both selections, Rick Land pulled out all of the stops which vibrated the arches of St. Andrews Neo-Romanesque arches.
Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro was written in 1905 and premiered at an all-Elgar concert to showcase the artistry of the strings of the newly-formed London Symphony Orchestra. It comes as no surprise that the Amarillo Virtuosi played this work with facility and grace.
In the Moderato, a solo viola sings a tune, replicating a song the composer once heard in Wales. You know, the Welsh and their songs. The audience then heard, in the Allegro and the Allegro and Fuguesections, intertwining themes which build in intensity, with a solo violin restating the Welsh melody.
This is a rich piece of music, which, coming at the end of the program, was like an extra layer of icing on a GermanChocolate Cake.
The occasion of the featured work is the essence of serendipity. The composer contacted David Palmer, artistic director of Chamber Music Amarillo, about premiering a work requiring chorus and a large orchestra. What David could ultimately offer was the orchestral capacity of the 1024, so Journey Toward the South Plains had its awakening.
In the words of the composer, this work is a journey of body and spirit, a literal and figurative journey home which took place in February, 2016. What follows, as illustrated in the music, includes the life cycle of water, cycles of the moon, the transmigration of a soul, the stages of grief and the ever-constant presence of change in our lives.
In the words of this listener, JTTSP was a transcendent tone poem on the plains. Inthe words of another, this was more spiritual than anything she’d heard in church!And, though geographically the title designated the South Plains, the sound was pure Panhandle.
And the chorus: young adolescent to young adult, singing confidently in several tones and tongues! Credit Elizabeth Manfredi for prepping her Bonham MiddleSchoolers like seasoned professionals.
And the music was both powerful and impactful, and, for those who live on the plans, a sonic depiction of the land we tread and the air we breathe. Even the work’s dramatic dynamics are imminently relatable to life’s abrupt changesin these parts: witness the recent January weather in October.
A bassoon duet especially stood out in the score. More accurately, this was a sustained soliloquy, which seemed continuous, without perceptible breath breaks!
A world premier, Handel organ concerti, and Elgar: a rich culturalcombination was offered up to an audience out here on the Texas high plains. Our thanks go to Harlan Hodges, Rick Land and Dr. Mark Bartley, and special thanks to David Palmer and St. Andrews Episcopal Church.
Their efforts make it easy to say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”
Though the title of the program sounded like a religiousrevival, a celebration of sound was more apt. For this event exulted in Northern Recital Hall’s upgrade to become the world’s leading variable acoustical space.
In fact, Dean Robert Hanson introduced the new hall as the star of the show and hoped the audience enjoyedits performance. Almost on cue, panels of speakers and sensors aligning the walls whirred and adjusted, Star Wars like, to the first number, and continued that process each time a new group of artists came on stage.
And the result was heavenly! Perhaps the association with the spiritual isn’t that far off.
A few of the eight performances, each chosen to highlight the new sound, are mentioned here.
The Drumline of the Buffalo Marching Band got everyone’s attention in providing a pure percussive soundscape, which utilized all types of struck-sound with each one distinctly heard.
The University Chorale performed works by Brahms, Hagenberg and Brown. The piece that most fully actualized the partnership between the new technology and the performers was Hallelujah by William David Brown.
This choral song is dramatic with a strong, assertive male opening, then joined by the ladies to become sustained variegationsof the word “hallelujah.” This was another attention getter, with the hall only accentuating the incredible vocal meld and pulsing dynamics.
MaryAnn Kyle, mezzo from Mobile, sang Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen with Mila Abbasova accompanying. Ms. Kylesang the serial seductress to perfection, sashaying into the audience to bewitch and beguilea captive male audience. The hall could well face indictment as an accomplice for Carmen’s crimes of the heart.
Wagner resists clarity, but the hall enabled Sarah Beckham-Turner and Matthew Oglesby to sing a Brunnhilde/Siegfried duet from Gotterdamerung with complete intelligibility. We can’t wait to hear Lady Sarah and her Opera Cowgirl cohorts perform The Ride of the Valkyries on this stage.
Choong-ha Nam and Denise Parr-Scanlin performed the digitally-complex, as in fingerings, four-handed version of two Brahms Hungarian Dances. The hall enabled the artistry of these puissant pianists to coalesce with the full potential of the Steinway sufficient for the audience to hope for a return engagement.Soon!
Dr. Mark Barley and the WTAMU Symphony Orchestra played two significant works, the first being Solemn March for Tsar Alaexander III’s Coronation, by Tchaikovsky.
This piece, performed at the dedication of Carnegie Hall, is noble, brassy and majestic, which, like the 1812 Overture, concludes with the Russian National Hymn.
The second was an orchestral premier, entitled Pathway to Polaris composed by B. J. Brooks. The theme of the composition, according to Dr. Bartley, is a version of Ein Heldenleben, which, in this case, is a student’s journey in becoming greater than oneself in reaching for the stars.
Both of these works, as amplified and tweaked by the hall, enfolded the audience in aural ecstasy.
No one involved with Northern Recital Hall can envision its impact on both artists and the arts. Gratitude that goes beyond mere words is extended to the university’s and School of Music’s administration for the vision of allowing alum Jay Perdue and Perdue Acoustics the opportunity to create the most acoustically advanced auditorium in the world!
With this feature, it ain’t braggin’ to say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”
Nothing better illustrates the magnum mysterium of the fine arts in Amarillo than contiguous events on October 5. As the Globe News Center staged Die Fledermaus, the Civic Center, across the street, hosted the World Championships of the Working Ranch Cowboys Association Ranch Rodeo!
Nowhere in the country could one find such a contrast in cultures. Yet, this wasn’t just a one-off event but rather illustrative of an ongoing reality: the ultimate in fine art coexisting with real-deal cowboys.
After a year in financial limbo, a redirected and reinvigorated Amarillo Opera performed Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. This final iteration of “The Bat” represented quite a multi-stage and multi-national evolution from the original, Die Gefangnis, “The Prison.”
Within twenty years of its 1874 premier, this opera buffa found acceptance at the leading theatres in the world.
Truth be told, even aesthete culture vultures like to laugh. And what better way for Amarillo Opera to find a new place than through audience member’s funny bones?
All the stars certainly aligned for this work. If opera is the ultimate performance art, comic opera, despite the disdain of purists, raises that bar. The requirements for humor far exceed bellowing Bell Canto, and include nuance, chemistry and timing. And all of the combustibles compounded to ignite a 10 on the stage of the Globe News Center!
Much of the credit accrues to Director Dean Anthony, who enabled the cast to fully actualize their characters. And, he did a credible job self-directing himself as the inebriated Frosch.
The leads, Angela Turner-Wilson as Rosalina, and Weston Hurt as Eisenstein were believable in their dissembling and deception, whether it was to self, spouse or society.
Their voices coalesced beautifully, each complimenting the other. This quality permeated the whole cast which projected both blend and balance.
Amarillo’s own (we can claim him now) Eric Barry played Alfred, actually more of an Alfredo, who has twin loves: Rosalina and his own voice. On stage he he evinced a charming buffoonery as he tried to beguile Rosalina, while his offstage tenor was clear and thrilling.
Abigail Krawczynska, as the maid Adele, managed the perfect sob-fest to get her way, which resulted in her acting as an actress. Her feigned outrage at being mistaken for her true self in the aria My Dear Marquis was layered with all sorts of operatic icing.
And a trouser role, right across the street from barrel-racing! Cara Collins played the bored Prince Orlofsky, who names, among a whole litany, this very opera as his chief cause for boredom!
Cara sounded Russian, and Angela, posing as a Hungarian countess, sang like she’d just come from the salons of Budapest. Weston, and Adelmo Guidarelli, who played the jailer Frank, failed utterly as poseurs sounding French. But faux Francais was in the script.
If laughter is the best medicine, then Die Fledermaus was just what the doctor ordered for a clearly recrudesced and recovering Amarillo Opera.
The citizens of Cowboy Country can be justly proud of this organization, capable of producing such quality grand opera. And, congratulations to General Director Mary Jane Johnson, and the cast and crew for a performance worthy of much bigger metropolitan stages.
Amarillo Opera is but one more reason we can say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”
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 heraldedthe 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 thismusic 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!!!”