I stayed in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for the weekend, and had decided I'd make the best of it, and check out an orchestra I've wanted to hear ever since I moved to Texas, but hadn't gotten around to--the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. I had seen their Music Director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya conduct in Indianapolis, and remember being impressed by him, and have wanted to see him in action with his own orchestra.
Being that it was my first time at the FWSO, I was soaking it all in. The hall is beautiful (be sure to look at the ceilings there! They are incredible!), and everyone on staff, from the PR department to the ushers were incredibly kind and welcoming. Even fellow concertgoers were incredibly warm there--I struck up two rather intense conversations with some people while I was there, and when I let them know it was my first time there, they welcomed me as if it were their own personal orchestra, and wished me well and invited me back. So, right from the get go, it was great experience.
This Sunday afternoon performance began with Borodin's Symphony no. 2. Right from the off, it's all in unison, and I was immediately struck by the large, deep, encompassing sound of the orchestra, particularly the strings. (all throughout the concert I was impressed with the strings, particularly the lower strings--they blend and play well together; very much a tight, solid unit). Unfortunately I can't remember much else about the work because there was a baby making noises. Actually, I'd say it was an 18 month to 2 year old making noises. What was equally as bad was the mother, saying "SSSHHHHH!!!" each time the child made a noise. Now, I think it's great that people want to introduce their kiddos to classical music---but bringing your little ones to a concert is simply unacceptable. I heard mumblings about the kid from people around me, but I wasn't annoyed with the child at all--after all, she was a child, and make noises is what they do. I couldn't believe that her mother thought it was acceptable to bring her child, and even more than that, I was disappointed in the ushers who let them in. I actually saw several babies at the concert. Granted, only this one child was making noises, but still--babies, as cute and wonderful and adorable and sweet as they are, do not belong in concert halls. I do hope next time the ushers will be a little more firm with concert goers, and make sure little ones stay OUT of the concert hall. (That's what family concerts are for!)
After that, the mother and child were thankfully asked to leave, and we moved on to a new work by the FWSO's Composer in Residence, John B Hedges entitled Fantasía sobre Yma Sumac, which was for clarinet and orchestra. If you are unaware of who Yma Sumac is, check this out. This woman....wow. She had something like a range of 5 octaves, and could do anything with her voice, literally. It's sultry, tribal, and downright sexy at time...I mean just dead hot, sexy. Hedges' composition can be very much described as that as well; he caught the essence of Sumac in the clarinet's part, as his writing displayed its range, and a vast array of tones, and sounds, much like Sumac's voice. FWSO Principal Clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi absolutely owned the work. She dove in to her part with confidence and soul...she went to town on it! I really would like to hear her in the orchestra...her playing was truly stunning.
The concert ended with Prokofiev's Suite from Cinderella, and in typical Prokofiev fashion, you can hear everything in the story, in the orchestra. You could hear the ugly stepsisters, clearly. You literally felt the joy that Cinderella did at the ball, and the panic when the clock struck midnight. This piece is where the entire orchestra truly shined. The overriding thought in my head was what a close, tight knit sound they have. Maestro Harth-Bedoya has been with the orchestra for some time, and it's obvious how hard he has worked to create that with him. It was palpable, literally. They created a large, expansive sound, yet it was never messy or unfocused. It came at you with quite a force, and a pleasing one at that.
Musically I was very satisfied with my first hearing of the FWSO, but there were other things I liked just as much. Harth-Bedoya took time to speak to the audience about each work. I kind of get nervous when I see a conductor who is about to speak, because I fear them going on for too long, or being far too pompous and over everyone's head, but this was not the case. He kept his comments brief and accessible, and entirely appropriate. He was engaging with his audience, and trying to bring them closer to what they were about to hear. He brought out composer John B Hedges before his work to talk to him about the process of composing, and helped make this new work more accessible to everyone. I don't know if this would work with all orchestras--but here it worked perfectly. It wasn't just for education's sake, but for making a connection with the audience as well. I was honestly charmed by this, and I'm a musician who's been to what seems like thousands of concerts in her lifetime! You'd think I'd have a jaded response to this, but I was charmed. I was further charmed when the orchestra then played an encore---a great reading of Glinka's Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla). Everyone loved it! The enthusiasm this audience had for their orchestra could have been spotted--and heard a mile away. After it was done, all I heard was glowing talk of the performance. (I agreed with them all, I assure you--I was just taken aback by such devotion to the orchestra. I didn't expect for that to take me by surprise, but it did, and it was a delightful thing!) Then, to connect with their audience MORE, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, John B Hedges, and Ana Victora Luperi went to the Barnes and Nobles across the street to do a meet and greet. I loved this sense of approachability Harth-Bedoya has about him. A conductor--one who has conducted many major orchestras across the US, including successful concerts at Carnegie Hall--inviting the audience for coffee and chatting, essentially. I was flabbergasted! And it wasn't just to go say hi and get an autograph or something. I went over there (I didn't talk to anyone, I was just observing) and saw Harth-Bedoya chatting at length with someone maybe no older than 20 or so. He was intently listening to, and engaging with this young man, and I bet you if it was his first time at the symphony, he'd be back because of this experience, because the conductor took time to chat with him. If it wasn't his first time, I'll bet you it helped to ensure he'd buy tickets again. I know this all sounds terribly simplistic, but it was so refreshing and new somehow. It was GENUINE. It was a desire to connect with the audience, not just to boost ticket sales, but to instill a love and appreciation of music in to them as well. Again, I know that sounds simplistic, but in seeing everyone's reaction and enthusiasm about it all, it seemed practically revolutionary.
So, now I have another orchestra about four hours or so north of Houston to drive up for. This was my first experience at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and it will certainly not be my last. What a great orchestra, great conductor, and great experience!