Innovative programming has its rewards—and its pitfalls, as demonstrated in two major concert events in Fort Worth last week.
Fort Worth continued its jump start on the classical music season last Tuesday (the curtain won’t rise on Dallas’ season until this coming Thursday) when the Cliburn Foundation kicked off their concert series at Bass Performance Hall with pianist Vadym Kholodenko, the freshly-minted 2013 Cliburn Competition gold medalist. In contrast to the sometimes disturbing trend toward playing it safe out here in the provinces, Kholodenko (and Cliburn management) showed a praiseworthy confidence in Fort Worth’s audience (which includes a well-seasoned crowd of longtime piano groupies) by presenting an evening devoted to rarely heard music of Medtner and Rachmaninoff.
The latter is, of course, an easy sell, particularly in a town long associated with a number of artists for whom Rachmaninoff is a specialty. Medtner not so much, and the work presented, including the mammoth Sonata No. 7 in E minor from , completed in 1911, has a particular reputation as demanding for both audiences and performers.
Tuesday night, however, Kholodenko took listeners along with on a wonderful musical journey through a work that explores the emotional and sonic possibilities of the piano on a level comparable to Liszt’s Sonata in B minor or Ives’ “Concord” Sonata. In an era in which the short attention span of the public is accepted as a truism in the classical music community, Kholodenko holds out hope that there will continue to be a market for intellectually stimulating program, and that he will be able and willing to present music of that sort convincingly.
Ukrainian-born Kholodenko presents an interesting contrast to another Moscow-trained recent (2001) Cliburn gold medalist, Olga Kern. Kern is an equally powerful artist, currently moving into mid-career stride with a winning combination of charisma and tremendous musical insight. While Kern arrives onstage with the confidence and glamour of Hollywood diva—and I mean that in a positive sense—Kholodenko leans straight toward the piano, apparently almost unaware of the audience. One leaves a Kern concert remembering the fireworks; one leaves a Kholodenko concert pondering the quiet, lyrical moments.
Dennehy Disappoints in Fort Worth
Three days after Kholodenko’s recital, the Fort Worth Symphony and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, having warmed up with an all-Russian festival in late August and a set of Pops concerts earlier this month, returned to Bass Performance Hall to open a classical subscription season that will be enriched in months ahead by the constant presence of music by living composers. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of presenting new music is that sometimes a new work disappoints.
Which was the case with Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s That the Night Come, a cycle of settings of poems by W.B. Yeats. Originally composed at the behest of Dawn Upshaw with accompaniment for chamber ensemble, and premiered with Upshaw as soloist in 2010, That the Night Come was here presented for the first time in an arrangement for a chamber orchestra of thirty. Adopting a post-minimalist style rich with color and marked by repetition, Dennehy somehow totally evaded the brevity and magical lightness of Yeats’ poetry. The power of Yeats lies in his ability to grab the reader and bring on a quick jolt of recognition; Dennehy’s settings, however, dragged on and ultimately destroyed the velocity—and the profundity—of Yeats’ ideas. To their credit, conductor Harth-Bedoya, the orchestra, and soloist soprano soloist Jessica Rivera plowed through bravely.
Late romantic South African composer Henry Lissant-Collins’ Delius-like tone poem Fuquoi in the Sugar-Cane had preceded the Dennehy work; the fuquoi is a South African bird, BTW, and clean-minded Fort Worth music-lovers assuredly made no off-color mental puns on the title. Exuberant performances of Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel and music from the same composer’s opera Der Rosenkavalier woke the audience up after the Dennehy, sending everyone cheerfully homeward.