Houston Symphony delivers new works and exciting Mahler

Sun Sep 25, 2016 at 12:50 pm
By RC McCauley
Andrés Orozco-Estrada led the Houston Symphony Orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 1 Thursday night. Photo: Martin Sigmund

Andrés Orozco-Estrada led the Houston Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 Thursday night. Photo: Martin Sigmund

“Noteworthy Composers” was the title of the opening subscription concert of the Houston Symphony Orchestra with the main focus being Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.  The billing may have been more optimistic for the first half of the concert featuring  a pair of two short works by winners of the inaugural Houston Symphony Young Composer Competition. 

Music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada brings a clear 21st century perspective to Mahler’s epic First Symphony.  His direction was lush but not fussy, with a finely judged approach—lingering and moving things along where appropriate. There was  a natural flavor to the rustic passages throughout. 

The finale is the true beginning of that mature, future Mahler, shaking off the song quotes, shackles of Beethoven and Wagner to synthesize something new., and the fine playing was exceptional here, the crowning glory of the performance.  Special merit goes to William VerMeulen, principal horn, providing fearless playing of the expanded brass section. In the third movement the solo of  Robin Kesselmen, principal double bass, made the solo that of a mournful singer.  Every player from the principals to the auxiliary players gave tremendous performance throughoutr

From forty-six submitted scores, Benjamin Krause from Houston and Victor Agudelo of Columbia each won $5000 and a performance of their works with the HSO.

Agudelo’s El Sombrerón, is a tone poem about a skeletal headless horseman – dressed in black with dogs in chains – chasing the riff-raff of the South American night.  Written for a 2009 Halloween children’s concert, it is not spooky for adults, but it was undeniably exciting – with an eerie whistled short four note canon in four parts for the orchestra. Less successful was the unvaried repetition of orchestra crescendos.

In Pathways composer Benjamin Krause says he challenged himself to write “fast music” and keep it interesting.  Beginning with modular blocks of musical figures and 25-second motives, it repeats without variation of color, despite the composer’s assurances.  Two minutes before the music’s end, slow chordal music starts in the low strings ascending to the violin’s highest register, offering some variety and respite.

The program will be repeated  2:30 p.m. Sunday. houstonsymphony.org.

RC McCauley is a composer, lyricist, and writer.

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