In mid-December 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany. It's 2020 now and celebration time. Orchestras around the world are commemorating 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.
I had hoped to join a special Beethoven festival tour to Bonn this August led by Northwest Arkansas Community College music professor Miles Fish, but family requires my presence in Texas, instead. Other than this one-time Germany trip, Fish makes annual 10-day summer pilgrimages to Tuscany, hosting groups in conjunction with NWACC's study-abroad partnership at the University of Siena. It was my distinct pleasure to be on that tour last June; My first visit to Europe was filled with memorable experiences great and small.
One experience was standing on the very spot in Florence's Piazza della Signoria where the original 1497 Bonfire of the Vanities fired up (opposed to the 1990 Tom Hanks-Melanie Griffith version). Another was departing Venice via water taxi. Reminiscent of noisy crew boat rides during my college summers working offshore, yet the destination was Marco Polo Airport, not Morgan City, La. From ancient city to modern airport and dockside to ticket counters via the longest moving sidewalk I've every ridden, it was uniquely memorable.
The most striking event was attending the opera "Don Giovanni" at Teatro La Fenice. My box seat above the orchestra was so close I saw each pluck of the harpsichord strings. Ironically, this Venetian moment evoked memories of a similar event in North Texas.
In 2008, I sat front row center immediately above the conductor's podium in Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall, there to see Elizabeth Futral, a Louisiana hometown friend, sing the lead in "Lucia di Lammermoor." As she performed the famous "mad" aria directly in front of me, I was so close I could read the score over the shoulder of the maestro (her husband, incidentally).
Since I wouldn't be joining the NWACC August trip, I decided to make Beethoven memories where I could: Bass Hall, the very place where I'd seen "Lucia." The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra staged a double-header last Saturday night. First up was the famous and brilliant violinist Midori performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto (his only). Indeed, the helpful agent in the box office had been correct. My orchestra box chair, a dozen rows back, was eye level with Midori. The music, the musician and the orchestra melded into one beautiful work of art.
Next, and without intermission, was the centerpiece, the popular Fifth Symphony with its unmistakable, usually ponderous, four-note introduction. That opening passage, familiar to thousands who've never even darkened the door of a symphony hall, can be as clichéd and cartoonish as the shark-approach theme from "Jaws." But not so in Fort Worth. Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya dove in directly with a crisp, near-rapid introduction, as if to say "let's get those four notes done---there's so much more to interpret." Thus, I felt like I was hearing this symphony for the first time.
After a well-deserved standing ovation, everybody who's anybody in local society exited in formal wear destined for the Worthington Hotel a few blocks away. A gala celebrating Midori's visit and noting Harth-Bedoya's last season with the orchestra awaited. Of course, in Sam's Club slacks and a leather jacket, I was not a soiree invitee.
You've got to love Fort Worth; The city makes no attempt to hide its Texan cow-town roots compared to Big D 30 miles east. Among black ties and cummerbunds, a few men donned Stetsons before heading to the shindig. Don't expect that at the Meyerson Symphony Center in sometimes uppity Dallas.
When I returned to my nearby lodging, the Texana immersion continued. The historic hotel, now a Marriott Courtyard, was once part of Conrad Hilton's Texas-born chain. Fellow guests included noisy young cheerleaders attending a statewide competition (perhaps dreaming of being Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders someday). Others wore boots and jeans in the waning hours of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Shiny Ford King Ranch edition pickups awaited valets out front.
In April the Fort Worth orchestra will perform Beethoven's Ninth, the "Ode to Joy" choral symphony. I hope to attend since the work is on the Bonn tour agenda that I can't make. In Fort Worth, choirs from Texas Christian University, University of Texas-Arlington and my own alma mater, Baylor University, will congregate. Surely the Germany chorale will be spectacular, but I dare say no more so than talented Texans. Beethoven sung by college student horned frogs, broncos and bears? Well, sure. One makes memories where one can.
Commentary on 02/13/2020
Print Headline: Making musical memories wherever the journey goes