People flocked to Caruth Auditorium Friday night, excited to see the Meadows Symphony Orchestra’s first show of the season.
The house was nearly full. There were several lone seats peppered throughout the auditorium, but they served mostly as buffers between strangers.
The audience was a study in diversity. Young and old alike mingled and then found their seats. They lacked a certain formal or casual consistency. Some were dressed in their Sunday morning best, while others wore their Friday night worst.
There was electricity in the audience when the band took their seats amid thunderous applause. These ovations were followed by a hush. Every person in the room waiting for one man: Dr. Paul Phillips.
The audience erupted when he walked with a sprightly step to his place before the orchestra.
When the applause died down, the concert started. It began with a thunderous, haunting sound that could rattle heaven, hell and everywhere in between. It was a complex piece composed by SMU professor Simon Sargon. He’s been teaching at SMU since 1983 and is currently teaching composition.
The piece, “Tapestries”, is made up of four orchestral scenes from his opera “Saul, the King.”
“Creating ‘Tapestries’ was a way of expanding some of the usical and philosophical themes of the opera by working them without voices, in a symphonic way,” he said.
The composer was honored by the inclusion of his piece in the night’s program, “This weekend I am incredibly relaxed, confident in the high caliber of the musicians and the artistry and depth of interpretation that Dr. Phillips brings to every piece he performs. It is a joy to know that my music is in such won
derfully talented hands.”
The high point of the evening was the second piece in the program. Aaron Copland’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” was written in 1926 and was inspired by the jazz music that made that era famous.
For this piece, a shining black piano took center stage. A woman in a shimmering purple dress made her way, escorted by the applause of the audience. She is Dr. Carol Leone the chair of the keyboard department at SMU.
Leone has a long history with music. Her father, Joseph Leone, was a jazz pianist for several decades. Dr. Leone has been performing since she was 3 years old.
Leone said that Copland’s piece is not well known, but it was written by one of the most important composers of the 20th century.
“It’s brash and bold and jazzy and all the things that people really respond to, so I feel it’s a piece people need to hear,” she said.
“The Meadows Symphony is such a great group of talented kids that he [Phillips] is able to, in such a short period of time, bring them up to a very professional level.”
The good doctor was right.The jazz and blues influences were skillfully blended into this great piece of orchestration. You could almost smell the gin and hear the sound of old jazz masters wafting out of old clubs on a moonlit night.
The music stirred the heart and shook the soul. The bright peal of the horns, the waltzing notes of the wind instruments, the hum of violins, and the hammering tones from the piano shook all my preconceptions of what music should be.
The orchestra ended with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C minor.” This was one of Beethoven’s most famous pieces, and they did not disappoint.
The powerful sounds and expert musicianship of the orchestra would have made the old composer proud. If Beethoven heard the masterful way his creation was performed, he would have danced for joy, or done whatever it is that European composers do when they’re happy.