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The Prodigal Prodigies Return

Texas Music Festival’s 30th-Anniversary Lineup

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Kenneth Broberg (photos by Ralph Lauer).

Summertime in Houston: most of the city’s professional orchestral musicians flee to cooler climes, leaving behind 93 heat-resistant young musicians to perform in the Texas Music Festival (TMF), which celebrates its 30th anniversary in June with a month-long series of concerts.

The festival is anchored around four blockbuster Saturday-evening symphonic concerts, but there are 30 smaller events scattered throughout the month. Audiences will hear high-quality recitals, chamber music, and plenty of Beethoven to celebrate his 250th birthday.   

TMF has been a proving ground for young musicians on the cusp of their professional careers. The players (or “orchestral fellows”) were chosen from 390 applicants in 22 countries to participate in the TMF Orchestral Institute. The one-month residency that TMC supports enables the 93-member ensemble to perform with world-class conductors and soloists. Additionally, there is a Young Artist Competition open to all players, with the winner being invited to appear with Germany’s Akademisches Orchester in Leipzig’s famed Gewandhaus concert hall in addition to an appearance (with the TMF orchestra) at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion during the following year’s festival.

The 30th-anniversary opening concert will be performed on June 7 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and on June 8 at UH Moores Opera House.The program begins with two fanfares: Aaron Copeland’s famous “Fanfare for the Common Man,” paired with composer Joan Tower’s evocative “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” commissioned by the Houston Symphony in 1986. Pianist (and Van Cliburn competition silver-medalist) Kenny Broberg performs Rachmaninov’s fiendishly lush “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” and the evening concludes with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Arabian Nights-inspired tone poem, “Scheherazade.”   

The second orchestral concert on Saturday, June 15, is equally hefty. Disney fans, Wagnerians, and opera lovers will all be sated with a program of works by Strauss, Wagner, and Dukas. Entitled “Cinematic Splendor,” the evening will feature TMF alum Ernesto Tovar Torres (on loan from the Philadelphia Orchestra) as French-horn soloist in Richard Strauss’ heroic Concerto No. 1.

Heroines are equally represented (in orchestral form) with Wagner’s epic depiction of sisterhood in “Ride of the Valkyries.” Lovers of Disney’s Fantasia will remember the Stokowski arrangement of Bach’s emblematic “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and Dukas’ whimsical “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The evening closes with Strauss’s underperformed “Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten” (The Woman without a Shadow), a densely orchestrated synopsis of Strauss’ dramatically complex opera.

Homages to the fantastical continue in week three of TMF with Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, his monument to opium-induced, unrequited love. This work, often credited as one of the first from the Romantic era, possesses colorful imagery: passionate dreams, the lovely countryside, and a harp-laden ball. Soon thereafter, events take a macabre turn. As the (loosely autobiographical) music progresses, Berlioz is poisoned with opium, beheaded by a guillotine (listen for the drum rolls depicting his head bouncing off the scaffold) and damned to hell amidst all manner of witches, ghouls, and goblins. 

Composer Berlioz was wildly infatuated with actress Harriet Smithson, who spurned his affections and refused his numerous, ardent proposals of marriage. Exasperated, she eventually agreed to meet the lovesick composer. Things did not go well. At the meeting, Berlioz drank a lethal dose of opium in front of her. An hysterical Harriet hastily agreed to marry Hector, who then drank an antidote to the opium (concealed in his other pocket). In true French fashion, they married, separated, and were eventually buried together—events all memorialized within his bizarre and captivating music.

The concluding week of the festival ends with a single, weighty work: Gustav Mahler’s  Symphony No. 6, conducted by Josep Caballé-Domenech, music director of Germany’s Staatskapelle Halle, among others.    

What: The 30th Annual Texas Music Festival
When: June 4-29
Where: The Moores School of Music, 3333 Cullen Blvd #120
Info: tmf.uh.edu  or call 713.743.3388

This article appears in the June 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Rich Arenschieldt

Rich Arenschieldt is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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