Blending jazz & classical
One time at band camp: Friends come together in Texas Music Festival big bang concert opener
It's often said that music brings people together.
Some prefer to take this adage a step further, making bold claims to the likes of music being a universal language, music as a bridge that dissolves cultural differences and on and on. Heck, if you recall the days of "We Are the World," apparently music can solve daunting global issues. I'll leave that up to you to ponder the possibilities of the art form, though I'm certain you can tell from my air of sarcasm that I prefer not to take things too seriously when it comes to tuneful matters.
I do, however, believe in the lasting power of close relationships.
Think back to your days as a camper in some sort of bucolic setting far away from home. Other than a couple of designated visitors' days, the parents are nowhere in sight. You explore your personal limits, try new things, crush on your cabin counselor, chant Kumbaya in the warmth of a bon fire, partake in the required water sports . . . how much fun did you have?
Not to compare the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival, which targets mostly college-age music students, to a teen summer camp experience, but the mechanics of how people bond through intense escapades don't change one bit with age. The addition of such a personal aesthetic pursuit atop the close quarters of the month-long classical music program, which runs through June 29, is a formula for forging bosom buddies joined at the hip — musically speaking.
Take the "Celebratory Opening" concert, set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Moores Opera House. One of the pieces in the program that also includes Benjamin Britten's Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury, selections from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring typifies how people connect through music. I guess you could say the story starts with "this one time at band camp. . . "
"I thought Matt was a typical wise guy from Long Island. But after having the opportunity to perform with one another, there were some very strong musical synergies."
Mark Anthony Turnage's Fractured Lines: Double Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra was written for Peter Erskine, a jazz drummer who performed with Steely Dan and Weather Report, and Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist active in the solo circuit. The piece is based on a melody by Erskine scored in a style implied by the reference: A tad of classical and plenty of popular music allusions, drum set included.
TMF faculty members Matthew Strauss and Ted Atkatz come together to perform the big bang showcase.
One time at band camp . . .
Atkatz, a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and Temple University in Philadelphia, resigned from a tenure position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to have the freedom to go after more creative pursuits. He's the founder and front man of NYCO, an alternative rock group based in Chicago, while teaching at the Lynn Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Fla.
Strauss, who holds a degree from the Juilliard School, has been a core percussionist with the Houston Symphony for nine years. He spent two seasons as a member of the percussion section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra alongside Atkatz beginning in 2002. But their friendship dates back almost 20 years prior to that. The two met in the mid-1980s while studying at the New England Music Camp in Maine and reunited a decade later at the Tanglewood Music Center.
"I thought Matt was a typical wise guy from Long Island," Atkatz jokes. "But after having the opportunity to perform with one another, there were some very strong musical synergies."
Knowing your collaborators heightens the ability to play expressively, not unlike being able to finish someone else's sentences.
"Music is certainly a language," Atkatz explains. "When you know how your partner communicates, it makes music-making so much more rewarding. In rehearsals, a concerto like the Turnage comes together quicker than if we didn't understand how the other plays — and that's when the fun begins."
Strauss describes the musical exchanges as effortless, particularly in shaping phrases and timing entrances and releases, something that's particularly critical when dealing with instruments with such defined front to the sound. There's little room for error in the initial attack as any discrepancies in coordination aren't just obvious — they can be disastrous.
"We can take more risks in performance knowing that we are synched," Strauss continues. "Isn't that what we all want: Fresh, energetic music?"
As a teacher, Strauss hopes that his students develop the same type of relationships he did while refining his artistic skills.
"Programs like the Texas Music Festival are where you meet your friends and colleagues, the ones who will continue to have impact throughout your professional and musical career," says Strauss.
The Texas Music Festival presents "Festival Orchestra 1: Celebratory Opening" on Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at the Moores Opera House. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $10 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online or by calling 713-743-3313.