Beethoven, Prokofiev and Rodrigo on the program
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) marks its second Symphonic Series outing at Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium this weekend in a performance with guest conductor Roderick Cox.
Attendees will not only get to hear a program featuring Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Op. 25, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, they will also see conductor Roderick Cox, who is making his debut in Fort Worth this weekend and will conduct the Dallas Symphony next weekend.
Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, Cox is a Black conductor in a time when Blacks remain underrepresented in the classical music ranks. In 2018, Cox started the Roderick Cox Music Initiative, a project to help provide scholarship funds to young musicians of color from unrepresented communities, allowing them to pay for instruments, music lessons, and summer camps.
Cox said race has not been a hindrance for him. Music goes beyond that, he said.
“It’s what I knew I wanted to do, and I think music transcends any race, color or creed,” he said. “I think that’s the beauty of it. I think it’s the true unifying force that we have as human beings, and it helps us not only travel the world and understand about different cultures but understand about each other.
“If you take the makeup of this orchestra and where they’ve come from, what parts of the world and regions they were born in and they’re here playing music together, I think that’s such an amazing thing. And so never ever, when stepping in front of an orchestra or working with an orchestra, did I ever think of race as being any sort of hindrance and never think anyone should.”
Cox said there was plenty of music around his house and that he sang in his church and played in the school band, but it wasn’t until college that he chose classical music for his career.
“It was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, hearing that and learning about that piece really inspired me to want to have a lifetime in doing this music because it was the first time I really saw how deep music can penetrate the soul and move people,” he said during an interview before a rehearsal with the Fort Worth Symphony. “That piece is basically an autobiography of Tchaikovsky’s life thus far and I think that really spoke to me as music not being this abstract thing, but something that can evoke a wide array of human emotions and expression.”
Cox completed an undergraduate degree in music at Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music and earned a master’s in conducting at Northwestern University.
In 2018, Cox received the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award from the U.S Solti Foundation. He is now based in Berlin.
Orchestras in Europe have a much longer history and are funded differently than in the U.S., Cox noted.
“I think one of the biggest differences is probably the age of those orchestras and those institutions,” he said. “They’ve been around a long time. And another big difference is the funding.
“We see a stark difference being played out during this time of coronavirus because the musicians there, they have government support and government sees the vital importance of cultivating art and culture in the community, and it being a priority just like their health care system and their military and education system.”
That makes a difference as the orchestras deal with funding, particularly when performances have been curtailed. “And so these institutions, during a time like this, have the flexibility to keep their musicians employed and to come up with different, innovative things, and they can also afford to do concerts socially distanced,” he said.
While American orchestras are funded differently, he finds the philanthropic spirit of the American music scene and orchestras “amazing in the sense that these orchestras are held together by individuals who give money to them.”
“That has its pros and cons, of course,” he said. “Orchestras here are very much dependent on their patrons and also have to work very, very, very hard to meet the bottom line of their budgets. So those are I think some of the biggest differences.”
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra has had to pivot, using the Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium while its usual home, Bass Hall, remains closed.
Keith Cerny, President & CEO of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, said the symphony has had to make changes to make the new location work.
“One of the things we’ve also done is work with Will Rogers Management to build a stage extension,” he said. “And that allows us to have up to around 40 or so musicians for our symphonic series, and up to around 27 musicians for our Pops series … But that’s one of the many things we did this summer to get ready.”
Cerny said the FWSO has not completed its audit of the year ending July 31, 2020, but is forecasting a deficit of around $250,000 on a $13.5 million budget.
“Given everything, we feel really good about it,” he said. “Obviously we prefer balanced budgets wherever possible, but given the pandemic year, that’s something we’re very pleased with.”
Cerny pointed to two factors in the relatively good numbers.
“That’s really due to two factors. One is we were able to secure a paycheck protection program loan for just under $1.6 million. And then our board and our development team does great fundraising work to keep the funds flowing in and keep us in good shape financially,” he said.
Still, the FWSO is not performing as frequently as it would in normal times and the audiences are smaller due to social distancing and some people’s fears of the coronavirus,
“We had, per performances, audiences between 425 and 575 attending. And then we had audiences of between 215 and 225. And that actually was about two thirds of the folks that had bought tickets for the Symphonic series, and about three quarters of the folks who bought tickets for the Pops,” he said.
“We hope over time, as people get more comfortable with what we’re doing and being in a theater that we actually will get a higher attendance rate,” he said.
Cox discussed the pieces he would be conducting this weekend.
PROKOFIEV: Classical Symphony, Op. 25
“With Prokofiev, Haydn was his favorite composer and he studied the music of Haydn. Studying the music behind him and being in the country, it was fun for him and gave him a sense of peace. And so he wanted to write a symphony in that context. However, you do hear moments of his own personality inside of it, and so that’s what’s amazing about it. It’s 15 minutes long, but it’s so compact in the sense that it explores so many different realms of harmony and structure and innovative elements in it that are so central to Prokofiev, and I think that’s what is special about it.”
RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez
“The Rodrigo guitar concerto is this very, very popular concerto in Spain. I don’t really hear it often in America, which is interesting. I haven’t heard it very much, but Jason Vieaux is a fantastic player and this piece is also connected to the outdoors. It depicts the gardens of Spain and the French court dances that were popular at the time.”
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6
“The Beethoven Six is also very much inspired by the outdoors. Beethoven, in the countryside where he had absolute solace and peace, where he can really think and rest when his… that’s the place where his ears did not plague him. And it was a place of divine for him. And so this is one of the first programmatic pieces written – that wasn’t a term used at the time he wrote it – but a piece that’s supposed to evoke feelings of just, it’s about specific feelings of being in the countryside.”
The Fort Worth Symphony is one of the first symphonies in the country to implement comprehensive COVID-19 testing for all musicians, crew and staff prior to each weekend of concerts, the symphony said in a news release.
The compan’s safety measures include social distancing on stage, regular temperature checks, acrylic screens to control airflow, bell covers for woodwind and brass, and masks for the string section.
For audiences, the orchestra has added assigned entry times with temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing during the performance, distanced seating in the performance chamber, and no intermissions.
In addition, the company has moved its concert playbills to a digital format and implemented “touchless” approaches to ticket taking.
In order to make the change in venue, the orchestra has revised some of its performance dates. The new schedule is as follows:
- October 16-18, 2020
- Roderick Cox, conductor
- Jason Vieaux as soloist
- PROKOFIEV: Classical Symphony, Op. 25
- RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez
- BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6
- October 30-November 1, 2020
- Brett Mitchell, conductor
- Karen Gomyo, violin
- BERNSTEIN: Serenade
- MOZART: Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter”
- November 13-15, 2020
- Nicole Paiement, conductor
- Stanislav Chernyshev, clarinet
- STRAVINSKY: Suite from Pulcinella
- COPLAND: Clarinet Concerto
- COPLAND: Suite from Appalachian Spring
For more information about the FWSO’s upcoming performance season, please visit www.fwsymphony.org
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