It's often said that the job of an orchestra is to play as one — it's not a democracy, but a dictatorship with the maestro at the helm.
The conductor "plays" one living instrument comprising strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and sometimes singers and chorus too, unifying their collective interpretation to affix an aesthetic that makes overall artistic sense.
That some groups, like the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, perform conductor-less day in and day out evinces the prowess of non-verbal communication, and it's thrilling to watch.
Then there are concerti, where one, two or three featured virtuosi — think Xiao Wang's Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor performance and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra — showcase their goods with support from a large ensemble. Classical concerti tend to treat the tutti as accompaniment, the genre later progressing to treat the allied forces in a more intertwined dialogue.
It's an opportunity for all the sections of the ensemble to shine by taking on music that's technically difficult, showing off the innate quality of each instrument.
With that as the basis, what on earth is a concerto for orchestra?
The compositional form seems like an oxymoron, the most famous of which is Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra of 1943, a year before his death. Others like Benjamin Britten and Witold Lutosławski tried the structure on for size, but neither was as successful as Bartók's — that's if you consider popularity and frequency in classical music playbills.
The essence of the concerto for orchestra isn't contradictory. It's an opportunity for all the sections of the ensemble to shine by taking on music that's technically difficult, a partiture that takes advantage of the innate quality of each instrument, and offers musicians a forum to add more personality where otherwise interpretation is at the whim of the conductor, who waves the baton — for better or for worse.
On Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at the Moores Opera House, the Texas Music Festival concert, titled "Cinematic Virtuosity," closes the month-long intense summer program with panache. Emerging stars of the classical music milieu will, in a way, reveal what they've mastered during the four weeks of immersive study.
Watch my Art & About video adventure (above) to hear interviews with Spanish conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech, University of Houston DMA flute student Caitrine-Ann Piccini and violist Renee Gilliland, orchestra director at Morton Ranch High School in Katy, to glean why this Bartók pièce de résistance is favorite for musicians and audiences, learn about the composer's love for folk themes and nature sounds, and what excites the musicians about performing it.
Texas Music Festival final concert, "Cinematic Virtuosity," also features violinist Dan Zhu in Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto in D major and Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, made famous by Disney's Fantasia. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased online or by calling 713-743-3313.