Performing Arts

Orchestra, guest conductor present exceptional program

If the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra can maintain the pace set by Friday night’s concert in Bass Hall, this is going to be a very good year. An impressive young guest conductor led the orchestra through a program of exceptional quality and often mesmerizing effect.

The guest was the Austrian conductor David Danzmayr, who has been active on both sides of the Atlantic. He opened his program with a lilting performance of a work that seemed a natural for a person of his artistic heritage: the Roses From the South waltz, by Johann Strauss Jr.

Then came a real rarity, the suite from the ballet score The Incredible Flutist, by Walter Piston, an American who was active in the first half of the 20th century but is not represented much on symphonic programs nowadays.

Based on Friday night’s performance, the suite is due a resurrection. It’s an attractive work displaying Piston’s substantial gift for melodic invention and ability to create musical atmosphere. Especially appealing is Piston’s sense of humor; one episode has the orchestra producing the babbling of a gathering crowd (nicely babbled by the Fort Worth Symphony’s musicians) and there’s even the barking of a dog.

The orchestra’s principal flutist, Jake Fridkis, should have been spotlighted in The Incredible Flutist, but he was away for a temporary engagement he signed for during the musicians’ recent strike. Playing in his place Friday night was another impressive guest, Les Roettges.

The mesmerizing part of Friday night’s concert was a deeply moving performance of Tchaikovsky’s greatest work, his Pathetique Symphony. The orchestra was in superb form, and Danzmayr led a performance that plumbed the depths of feeling.

Conductor and orchestra had to deal with a temporary glitch at the beginning of the work: a loud mechanical hum from backstage somewhere. Danzmayr seemed about to hold the performance but decided to continue, and the hum soon ceased.

Incidentally, the audience applauded at the end of the third movement — one of the most exciting pieces of music ever written. There’s still another movement to go, and conductors sometimes plunge immediately into the finale to try to dodge the interruption. My feeling: Let ’em applaud.

At the conclusion of the Pathetique, Danzmayr stood immobile with his baton raised — a signal to the audience to observe a moment of silence. This can be an effective gesture, but in this case the silence was held so long that it began to seem an affectation. Considering the magnificence of what went before, a forgivable misjudgment.