La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Menuhin Competition Austin 2014 Declares: "The Composer is Dead!"

by Paul E. Robinson


Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero

Dvořák: Carnival Overture
Kreisler: Praeludium and Allegro
Rennosuke Fukuda: 1st Prize Winner, Junior Section, violin
The Cleveland Orchestra
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

Stookey: The Composer is Dead
The Cleveland Orchestra
Brett Mitchell, conductor
Giancarlo Guerrero, narrator

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas
March 1, 2014

As the Menuhin Competition Austin 2014 nears its conclusion, its’ organizers paused to remind listeners that the competition, founded in 1983 by Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), is all about children.  Menuhin believed that music should be about more than talent and competition, that it should produce “ambassadors of goodwill, for they come with pure hearts and music in their souls. It is in these younger people that we invest our future.” In this spirit, yesterday afternoon, the Menuhin Competition presented a family concert for Austin-area school-children . Thanks to the generosity of donor Robert F. Smith, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, who bought all the tickets and distributed them, the Long Center in Austin was packed.

For this occasion and for the Closing Gala Concert tomorrow night, the Cleveland Orchestra was imported to add to the luster of the final weekend of the Competition. The Family Concert, an excellent addition to the Competition activities, was a delight from beginning to end.

One of the purposes of the concert was to feature the young man who had been chosen the night before as the First Prize Winner in the Junior Section of the Competition. Rennosuke Fukuda (photo:right) is a fourteen-year-old Japanese violinist who has been playing the instrument since the age of three. He now studies with Machie Oguri. Throughout the various rounds of the Competition, Fukuda displayed a technique astounding for his age, as well as poise and maturity in performance. At the Family Concert he thrilled his (mostly) young listeners with Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro.

The main work on this concert program was a 2006 composition by Nathaniel Stookey based on a story by Lemony Snicket. The piece is in the tradition of such pieces as Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It is meant to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra in a “fun” way.

The conductor for most of this Family Concert was Giancarlo Guerrero, the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal guest conductor for its annual Miami residency. For this piece, however, Guerrero was narrator – and an exceptionally funny and engaging one he was too. On the podium was the new assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, Brett Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell studied music at the University of Texas and served for several years as assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony.

The Composer is Dead begins with the death of a composer and continues with a police inspector’s attempts to determine who might have done this dastardly deed. Naturally, each of the sections of the orchestra is suspect. It is a delightful piece and narrator, conductor and orchestra all contributed to its success on this occasion.

Incidentally, during his bows Mr. Mitchell managed to get in a “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal for any Texas Longhorns fans who might be in the audience.

The Senior Section finals follow later in the day and I’ll report on that event in my next blog.

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