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Two Composers Leave Their Mark On Dallas With JFK Music Premieres

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Categorized Under: Local Events, Music

Dallas audiences heard two music premieres this weekend, both commissioned to celebrate the legacy of John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Listeners of the symphonic work and chamber piece found the music moving and effective, whether they lived through trauma half a century ago or not.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra premiered Conrad Tao’s The World Is Very Different Now Thursday night with performances through yesterday. Audiences KERA talked to could not believe pianist, violinist and composer Tao is still a teenager.

Carol Rawitscher: “Oh my God, 19 and he wrote this, and he…

Gilbert Bruneman: “He’s amazing. Nineteen and be able to do that…”

Carol Rawitscher and George Bruneman loved the performance. Although Tao wrote it as a stand-alone work, a video of archival Kennedy scenes ran in the concert hall. Rawitscher said the music was almost a sound track.

“It was wonderful and I don’t like contemporary music as a rule,” said Rawitscher. “It also grabbed the spirit of what happened. It was the joy and then the sadness and then the hope. And you could just feel that. And the video helped, I think.”

Bruneman, an eye-witness to the assassination, agreed.

“I thought it was great, especially the beginning, the film and all that . I was really interested because I was there when he was killed. It brought back memories. I was right on the street when he was killed so it brought back memories.”

The piece was moving for Brandon Walker too, who was born decades after the assassination.

“You know you could tell that, in the beginning of the piece, it had a very, very presidential, the trumpets coming in, an up beat feel,” said Walker. “And you could follow the piece through everything that happened. You could feel the energy with everything that happened. and then the drop, and almost that interference of the alto sax saying ‘Oh my, something happened.’ ”

Composer Tao said he didn’t write the piece as a score with a story line, but that’s how many took it. The Nasher Sculpture Center also co-commissioned a piece by composer Steven Mackey. In contrast to Tao’s full orchestral score, Mackey wrote an intimate, though longer piece for string quartet, called One Red Rose.

“I was not so much trying to depict scenes as more feelings,” Mackey said, “just sort of emotions. I can see how people would bring recollections to it. That’s fine with me.”

Mackey’s music, composed more with Jacqueline Kennedy in mind than Jack, was exciting to Kenneth Agyemang.

“It was like a very touching, moving piece,” Agyemang said. “Overall, it was pretty great. That was really intense, really heavy, dark deep, and towards the end it got to be I guess a lot more happier. Just, you couldn’t forget about the accomplishments he had and just the mark he had.”

Many who heard Steve Mackey’s piece and that of Conrad Tao say both composers left their mark on Dallas this weekend.

  • Arlington Ed

    [2nd edit.: Corrected – please disregard the two previous versions of my comments on this story]

    I find this story a little confusing.

    I attended the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s (DSO’s) John F. Kennedy memorial performance at the Meyerson concert hall on Sunday, November 24 (the date of
    President Kennedy’s funeral as well as my father’s death 10 years ago). There were two Kennedy-specific pieces performed Sunday – the premier of the Conrad Tao work discussed in the story at hand, and a second, shorter work, “Murder of a Great Chief of State”, written by Darius Milhaud and first performed one week after President Kennedy was buried.

    I very much enjoyed the Orchestra’s performance and my visit downtown in general – the subtle excellence of the Meyerson Symphony Center itself, the filling of its space with the luxurious music of the Orchestra, my spying the members of the diverse crowd and enjoying their unrelenting politeness and tolerance of my overrall scruffiness, my perusing the alluring baubles in the gift shop, the pealing of the bells of the Catholic church across the street as the grey late afternoon became a sparkling early evening – all made for the major part of a day well spent. So when I saw that Art & Seek had a review of the very performance I attended, I was looking forward to comparing my experience with the writer had to say.

    But one thing that wasn’t a part of my afternoon, contrary to what this story implies, was my hearing any premier of a “… piece by composer Steve Mackey” co-commissioned by the Nasher Sculpture Center. What’s commentary about this piece doing popping up mid-paragraph in a story that up to that point was entirely about a piece premiered by the DSO at the Meyerson? Did I pay for a ticket to music performed by the DSO that I missed because I didn’t know about it? Upon reading a suggestion of such, I’m getting a little mad.

    It took me a few readings of this story to figure out just was performed and where on Sunday. The Meyerson and the Nasher don’t connect – they’re two blocks away from each other – and it’s unwarranted to assume that anyone attending one performance also attended the other. The Nasher event deserves a sharper introduction and distinction than this story gives it; as it stands I was initially bewildered as to what the writer was talking about – was there some chamber peformance by a stripped-down portion of the Orchestra that I missed? Sheesh. Don’t you guys have an editor?