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The Classical Note: How Voices of Change Keeps Concerts Fresh After 40 Years

Photo by Candice White.
Photo by Candice White.

About 100 hardy music lovers braved Sunday afternoon’s dreary weather to witness, at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium, the latest installment of what has been—and remains, nearly forty years after its inception—one of the most reliable ongoing beacons on the Dallas music scene.

Through the years, composers whose works eventually figure in the repertoire not only of the recital hall but on the operatic and symphonic stage have been introduced to the local audience under the auspices of Voices of Change, essentially a constantly evolving group of area professional musicians who take the time and effort to stay abreast of the most significant new activity in the world of composition. Once again, the ensemble introduced Dallas to new music by living composers, presenting works by Americans Robert Paterson and Mohammed Fairouz anchored by sturdy twentieth-century classics by Poulenc, Ligeti, and Janacek.

Paterson’s Star Crossings of 1999 frankly evokes humanity’s constantly increasing awareness of our placement in a big empty universe; the composer makes his point at least in part with glassy, brilliant sci-fi sounds succinctly packaged in a single movement of nine minutes. The ensemble of flutist Helen Blackburn, bass clarinetist Chris Runk, percussion Drew Lang, and pianist Gabriel Sanchez found a convincing momentum and structure in a work that is both appealing and reasonably serious in concept.

Fairouz’s A Prayer to the New Year of 2012 sets poetry of the late Palestinian feminist poet Fadwa Tuqan in four movements for soprano, mezzo-soprano, cello, and piano. In much of her poetry, Tuqan rails against the Zionist occupation of her homeland on one hand and the oppression of females in traditional Arabic culture on the other; in this remarkable text, she transcends contemporary turmoil and calls on all humans to “build the collapsed universe within us anew and restore/the joy of fertility to our barren world.” Fairouz’s setting launches immediately into a passionate, neo-romantic world; if he at times falls back on easy exotic lyricism and predictably heart-tugging harmonic formulas, he also frequently demonstrates a broader, more promising eclecticism and originality—as in the striking, neo-baroque counterpoint of the second section. Soprano Julie Dietz and mezzo-soprano Virginia Dupuy impressively took on the linguistic challenges of the Arabic texts (not to mention the considerable tonal intricacies), joined by cellist Kari Nostbakken and pianist Liudmila Georgievskaya in a memorable performance.

The Fort Worth Symphony likewise continued its on-going commitment to renewing and enlivening the symphonic repertoire last weekend at Bass Performance Hall under Colombian-born guest conductor Alejandro Posada. A set of lively and colorful Greek Dances by twentieth-century Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas provided an interesting glimpse of that composer’s rarely heard output, followed by an appropriately suave rendition of Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3 with guest soloist William Hagen, and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. The dialogue of national styles—in this case Greek, French, and German—under a generally romantic umbrella demonstrated once again that well-planned programming can transform the standard classical symphonic concert into an event that is meaningful and engaging.