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Bates to Beethoven, an exhilarating Fort Worth Symphony concert

01.09.16
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Joshua Roman, Mason Bates
The Dallas Morning News

Thanks to Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, I walked out of Bass Performance Hall on Friday night with a big smile on my face. The orchestra’s music director had just led the freshest, most exhilarating Beethoven Eroica Symphony I can recall hearing in concert. And that was after a first half devoted to two lively, engaging pieces by the up-and-coming American composer Mason Bates.

But back to the concert. Bates’ 2011 Mothership was an energetic opener, three strongly rhythmic sections with booming disco bass beat framing gentler episodes. The jazzy first episode includes wild clarinet flourishes, the gentler second a lyric cello solo.

Harth-Bedoya kept the orchestra alert and expressive in both works, with Bates himself managing computerized sound effects in Mothership. Joshua Roman, for whom the Cello Concerto was composed, played as if he owned it, with a fine balance of brilliance and expressivity. The third movement, though, struck me as overstaying its welcome.

With slightly slimmed-down string sections, at tempos close to Beethoven’s oft-ignored metronome markings, Harth-Bedoya’s Beethoven was quite different from heroic modern norms — rightly so. The composer’s scratched-out dedication to Napoleon and the subsequent Eroica title were both afterthoughts that have nothing to do with the music’s actual content.

So we got a bracing first movement, a funeral march more spooky than ponderous, an exhilarating scherzo and an aptly playful finale. Harth-Bedoya carefully calibrated dynamics, with telling contrasts between forte and fortissimo, and phrases were lovingly shaped. The orchestra played superbly, with special praise going to the horn section and principal oboist Jennifer Corning Lucio.

I wished, though, that Harth-Bedoya had revived his earlier practice of dividing violins on left and right sides of the stage, as Beethoven would have expected. And brasses could have been a little more reserved at climaxes. 

Read the rest of the review here