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The Fort Worth Symphony opened their season with an all-Russian festival. And while the results were mixed, Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony was unforgettable.

The Classical Note: With Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, Maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya Stuns Fort Worth Audience Into Silence

The Fort Worth Symphony’s season-opening all-Russian festival at Bass Performance Hall, devoted entirely to the music of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, offered obvious box office appeal as well as plenty of artistic challenges for the orchestra and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

Certainly the three symphonies of Tchaikovsky (Nos. 4, 5 and 6) presented on the festival’s consecutive concerts are exemplary in their combination of craftsmanship and striking gesture and deserve their enduring presence in the symphonic repertoire. However, No. 4, which turned up on the opening concert on Friday night, drew the short straw this time around. While conductor Harth-Bedoya created a reasonable sense of momentum, he indulged all too frequently in overly noisy climaxes that cheapened the music and blunted the overall effect.

Saturday night’s performance of No. 5 was considerably more convincing. The orchestra had warmed up a bit, and, though Harth-Bedoya continued to bull-doze his way through the climaxes, the profundity of Tchaikovsky’s passions came through much more effectively here.

But, while Harth-Bedoya was still at times more intent on simply being loud than on being expressive in the closing performance of the Sixth Symphony on Sunday afternoon, here he achieved a convincing final effect, leaving the audience sitting in stunned silence for a long moment at the close of this spiritual pilgrimage—a far greater compliment than immediate cheers.

The three Russian piano concertos presented during the three days of the festival offered revealing glimpses of three young pianists, all of whom figured prominently in the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth. The competition’s silver medalist, Beatrice Rana, took on Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto on Friday. Her technical ability is beyond question, but, though she strove valiantly to bring new ideas to this overly familiar work, she failed to make a convincing case for the piece or for her reading of it.

On Saturday, Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan, who didn’t even make the final round at the competition, grabbed the opportunity to leave the strongest impression of any participant in the festival with a beautifully spacious rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Deljavan’s ability to march on after a relatively weak competition showing—and to do so with impressive style—bodes well for his future on the international scene.

Sunday afternoon, the Cliburn’s third-place finalist, American Sean Chen, continued to display disarming onstage charisma as well as fleet fingers in Rachmaninoff’s impossibly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 (one of his final round concertos in the competition). Although he has obviously conquered the technical challenges of this monster concerto, and likely has a major career ahead of him, he still hasn’t discovered the remarkable intellectual and spiritual element in a work he still obviously regards as a showpiece.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez via.