Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Garland Symphony

I’m not sure how we got roped into it but the wife and I spent a wonderful Friday evening in Garland, Texas at the Garland Symphony Orchestra . Well, let me state early on that we both really do love the symphony and most classical music. This was a trip initiated by young Justin, a co-worker of mine at the Frisco Police Department. Justin is back in college finishing his degree and needed a Music Appreciation class to get his Liberal Arts out of the way.

Justin came to me on the Thursday before the concert to relate to me a tale of woe of how his mean spirited instructor had made it a class requirement to go to a concert and report his impressions of the event. With a little impish, conspiratorial grin (yeah Justin, I have kids, I know when I’m being played) and suggested it wouldn’t be a bad idea if Dianna and I joined him and his lovely girlfriend Becca at the concert. Seems our presence would somehow reduce the pain and not make the evening a total loss. I so enjoy sincerity in youth today.

Trying to be supportive, I checked in with the wife and she readily agreed to join in, for the educational value, of course. Well and to watch Justin squirm under the relentless assault on his Country Music sensibilities.

For 26 years, the Garland Symphony Orchestra has been providing performances of great orchestral music to Garland and its surrounding communities. Since 1986, the symphony has been led by the current Music Director, Robert Carter Austin. Maestro Austin is quite the guy. He’s not only a classical musician; he holds a Bachelor of Science degree from MIT a Diploma in Computer Science from Cambridge and had time to get his Masters of Musical Arts from Stanford.

One of the best parts of the presentation (and I feel wholly needed in most classical venues) was that, prior to the beginning of the three selections, Mr. Austin took the opportunity to educate us, if you will, in the basics of the music and the composer. He brought forth the intricacies and the background of each movement and what it meant to the overall piece. Subtleties I hadn’t considered in the past like what animal a given instrument represented or what brought the composer to write the music. Even some of the politics as to how the agendas of the various patrons influenced the music.

Trouble was, like most teachers, he had to play "answer my arcane trivia question" about the composers. There were two particular music "know-it-alls" that were quick to shout out answers to his questions, even stumping the members of the Orchestra.  I got their names for my list of go-to people the next time I need a lifeline on "Millionaire".

If Mr. Austin was impressive, the soloists for that evening were even more impressive. The Violin Soloist was a young man named Andrew Wang, himself a bit of a genius in his own right. Mr. Wang is not only an accomplished chamber musician, orchestra leader and jazz violinist but took the time to get his Bachelor of Arts Degree and just completed his PhD in Immunology at University of Texas’ Southwestern Medical School where he’s finishing his MD degree. Holy Cow, I can’t get the time to pick up the dog poop in the back yard, this guy got a PhD while doing his MD. His parents must be very proud.

Like the other two Soloists, I couldn't help but wonder if, while they played the fancy stuff, their contemporaries in the Orchestra weren't looking over their sheet music a little envious thinking, "Big deal....I could do that too."

There were three selections on this night. Concerto in F Major for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 8 No. 3 RV (Ryom-Verzeichnis is the catalog the music was documented in) 293 “Autumn” from The Four Seasons (the concerto, not the hotel) by Vivaldi, Symphony No. 36 in C Major, KV 425 “Linz” (the city it was first performed in Austria) by Mozart and concerto in C Major for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra, Opus 56 by Beethoven.

The first Concerto was done by a small segment of the entire symphony. Vivaldi wrote this series of Concertos as musical stories or sonnets. He even interjects descriptive comments within the bars such as "The barking dog" or "the drunkards have fallen asleep" in the second movement. That was a challenge. In most music the musicians finish a number, pause, get applause and move on to the next number. In classical, there is a pause between the pieces (movements) and you don’t applaud. You have to hold off until the end of the whole piece.

For the Mozart piece, they brought all the big guns of the entire Orchestra. The stage was laden with every string instrument they could get with just a smattering of winds like the Oboe to bring the base tones to light. There was one percussionist in the back who, I swear, had the hardest job. The Orchestra would go for many minutes just so this guy could follow page after page of Concerto to hit the big drum once.

We had a real intermission and then the Beethoven piece played. Mr. Austin cautioned us it may start out pretty soft and might lull us into thinking we were going to be bored to tears but it would get its momentum about half way through the second movement and beat us senseless as the Piano Soloist Alex McDonald swept his fingers in a blur across the keys at break-neck speed ending in a crashing crescendo which left us all rising to cheer their efforts. Dianna swears it was the same music they play at Bank of America while they wait to enter a conference call.

The evening ended with Wang, McDonald and the Cello Soloist Oliver Schlaffler became a trio doing a brief example of a Jazz number which had us rising again to reward the Soloists and the entire Orchestra on a great night of music. Yes, Justin did nod off briefly but Becca caught him before he snored. It was worth the experience.

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