Review: UT Symphony’s “American Spectacular”

As I sat in the James R. Cox Auditorium on Sunday for the UT Symphony Orchestra’s season opener, I made a few notes on the intriguing program… uniformly positive I’m happy to say. Two works from composer and KSO music director Lucas Richman opened the program followed by the discovery of a really satisfying work from 1985 by Michael Torke. Aaron Copland’s Suite from Billy the Kid concluded the concert. I must admit to being only a minor admirer of Copland in general, but that discussion can wait for a later date. What I was struck with was that the real star of the afternoon was actually the resounding success of the UT Orchestra program itself—and thanks for that go squarely to Maestro James Fellenbaum.

Fellenbaum, through inventiveness, enthusiasm, and a long-term approach to performance quality, has created a program that is, no doubt, providing springboard opportunities for the professionally aspiring orchestral players and a rich and diverse musical experience for the audiences. I certainly hope that both the students and his faculty colleagues clearly recognize the dedication to excellence that he has brought to his corner of the UT School of Music.

Lucas Richman is marvelous at evoking mental images through music, no doubt due to his experience in composing—and conducting—film scores. His A Western Fanfare opened the concert and gave the UT Symphony string section an opportunity to paint the ideas of western landscapes with a lusciously lyrical brush. Richman’s song cycle, The Kisses of a Pearl, now in a newly orchestrated version, was a wonderful vehicle for faculty tenor Andrew Skoog and his impeccable diction and clear high range.

I confess that prior to this concert I was only vaguely aware of contemporary composer Michael Torke. However, I will also admit to now being a solid fan, being thrilled and impressed with his Bright Blue Music on the second half of the program. This wonderfully intriguing work from 1985 has obvious challenges of rhythm and meter that were met head-on by the orchestra, leaving the audience (well, at least me) somewhat stunned and delighted with the tonal range and the satisfying structure.

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