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Section: Classical music
Section: Houston Lifestyle & Features

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Nov. 22, 2004, 8:49PM

Round Top program focuses on rare Americana

Moores Ensemble kicks into gear with Kennan Concertino

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

When Antonin Dvorák arrived in the United States in 1892 to head a conservatory in New York City, he urged composers to mine the glorious indigenous music hovering around them daily.


Some already were. Two rarely performed works presented Saturday at the Round Top Festival illustrated the search: Jubilee, the first of four Symphonic Sketches by American George Chadwick, and Appalachia Variations on an Old Slave Song With Final Chorusby Englishman Frederick Delius.

Chadwick gave Jubilee the rhythmic and melodic exuberance of American folk music and a second theme that could have come from Hollywood decades later.

Delius absorbed ideas and material for Appalachia and several other major works while living in Florida, where his father sent him as a young man to manage an orange plantation.

He based Appalachia on the song "O honey, I am going down the river in the morning," processing the melody through his signature luscious chromatic style but waiting until the end to let the tune emerge in its full, simple glory.

Conductor/composer Gunther Schuller led the University of Texas at Austin Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Singers in the program, also presented in UT's weeklong interdisciplinary festival New Worlds: Dvorák in Search of America.

Schuller and the ensembles made bold cases for the viability of both works, but that was not the case with Dvorák's Cello Concerto, composed in the United States but the least "American" of the works from that three-year period.

UT cellist Bion Tsang was a strong soloist, but the performance overall was a rougher sled. Schuller wasn't always in command of the orchestra, and the woodwinds had major problems with tuning.

Something special

The Moores School Wind Ensemble performed another UT-related product in its Sunday afternoon concert at the Moores Opera House on the University of Houston campus: the Concertino for Piano and Wind Ensemble of Kent Kennan.

Kennan was a longtime music professor at UT. He was known particularly for ground-breaking textbooks on counterpoint and orchestration but composed a lot of attractive music early in his career. He arranged the Concertino, originally with orchestral accompaniment, for wind ensemble in 1963.

Pianist Timothy Hester, conductor Tom Bennett and the Moores School ensemble turned the concertino into a brash work with hyper-charged energy and a second theme that deftly mixed sweeping show-tune lyricism with prickly dissonance.

The UH ensemble also played a typical mix of transcriptions of orchestral music, an original march, an arrangement of two themes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and a big, imaginative piece by Bob Margolis based on Terpsichore, a 1612 collection of instrumental dances by German Michael Praetorius.

It was absolutely delicious to see four percussionists clanking out a four-square dance on marimbas and hearing groups of the wind players mimicking the nasal, squalling sound of Renaissance instruments.

Star turn

Wind instruments also took a star turn on the first Houston Chamber Orchestra concert of the season, presented Sunday evening in the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall.

The Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn capped the charming all-Mozart program, which opened with the rarely heard Symphony in B-flat Major (K. 45b) and continued with the familiar motet Exsultate Jubilate.

Artistic director Michael Lowe led consistently bracing performances, driven and occasionally led by the freelance ensemble that included members of the Houston Symphony.

Oboist Stefan Farkas, clarinetist Sasha Potiomkin, bassoonist Cheryl Huddleston and Benjamin Jaber, horn, were a well-rehearsed, amiable solo ensemble in the Sinfonia Concertante. Jaber produced some very nice phrasing; in duets he and Huddleston played crisply and exuberantly.

Dalma Boronkai, a graduate of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, had the clear and agile voice needed for Exsultate Jubilate. In the famous Alleluia, which concludes the motet, she let loose with the sparkling coloratura and brilliant high notes that brought the entire piece to a thrilling end.

The B-flat Major Symphony, probably composed when Mozart was 12, was a charming and skillful dash through the basics of symphonic form made all the more alluring by the exuberant performance of Lowe and the Houston Chamber Orchestra.

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