Not so long ago, on warm summer evenings in a poolside chaise at Creekwood Park, I observed the ongoing construction of the beautiful Woodlands United Methodist Church. Finally, at this week’s Woodlands Symphony Orchestra concert, “Hungarian Maestros,” I was able to see the soaring tabernacle from the inside.
If the church itself was a heavenly concept, the music of this fine orchestra certainly made it more so. A pre-concert “In the Spotlight” discussion was hosted by symphony education liaison, Lana Hazlett. With the animated charm and grace that has made her a pre-symphony favorite, Mrs. Hazlett led a conversation with the soloist for the evening, renowned violinist, Andor Toth. Special attention was paid to the many local school children in the audience who were guests through the generosity of the Woodforest National Bank “Musical Chairs for Kids” program. With the gentle manner of an old friend, the handsome, silver-haired Toth shared with the children some tales of his youth in a tough, Irish-Italian neighborhood of New York City where “.you either became a priest or a convict!” He reminisced further about his path to the Julliard School, as well as his pride in both his son (a famed cellist), and his wife, Louise, a noted singer. He has performed with both around the world. Toth also spoke of Bela Bartok, composer of the concerto he was about to perform. He described Bartok’s use of Hungarian songs and dances for inspiration, and also the complex polytonality (music written in two keys) that made Toth, himself wonder if this composition was the best choice for introducing young children to the symphony.
The performance, conducted by WSO’s Music Director, Dagang Chen, began with Mr. Toth as soloist for Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2. A calm, serene, and focused atmosphere surrounded the famed violinist throughout the performance. He gave an extraordinary display of technical brilliance while being superbly complemented by the orchestra under the gifted Chen’s baton. The piece itself is undoubtedly a feast of polytonal intricacies for musical intellectuals. While beautifully performed here by both soloist and orchestra, it offered some difficult listening for average concertgoers accustomed to more clearly defined melodic lines and musical direction. No one would be humming this tune on the way home. Perhaps Toth’s hesitation to offer it as a child’s introduction to symphonic music was well founded. Never the less, the performance was warmly received during the enthusiastic ovation that followed.
The evening concluded with a magnificent performance of the Symphony No.3, in F major of Johannes Brahms. The First Movement was immediately soaring with sweeping grandeur, and then varied from lighthearted melodic richness to moments of great passion. On a crisp autumn night in Texas, the Second Movement was performed with such skill under Chen’s direction, that it seemed to wrap the audience in a cozy blanket. The Third Movement is one of the best-loved movements in all of symphonic literature. In Chen’s skilled hands, this performance was almost hypnotic in the tenderness of its melodic power. The concluding Fourth Movement began with great majesty and quickly raced to heights of orchestral power that had all symphonic elements in perfect high gear. If Woodlands residents had forgotten they lived in a special kind of paradise, Maestro Chen had given them a blissful reminder that those present will long remember.
(The Courier 11.19.00)