Wichita Falls, Texas (March 28, 2017) – The Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra (WFSO) has named Fouad Fakhouri as its next Music Director and Conductor effective June 1, 2017. The Search Committee chose Fakhouri after an 18-month-long international search.

Maestro Fakhouri will take the podium on Saturday, October 14, 2017, as the orchestra opens its 70th season. “For me this is similar to a homecoming. Having spent a significant amount of time in Texas, it is wonderful to get back and contribute to the state that I practically grew up in,” said Fakhouri, who was educated at West Texas A&M University and the University of North Texas. “I felt a genuine, almost immediate, connection with the musicians and was thrilled by their high level of professionalism, commitment, and dedication to the art of music making,” said Fakhouri of his work with the WFSO in February.

With over two decades of international credits as a conductor and composer, Fouad Fakhouri is committed to actively engaging with audiences through powerful artistic experiences. Known for his “musical accuracy” and “emotional intensity,” his performances have been celebrated for their broad, dynamic and powerful interpretations, which go beyond the score to capture both the essence and spirit of the music.

Kristen Van Cleve, WFSO Concertmaster, said, “I am thrilled that Fouad Fakhouri has agreed to be the next Music Director of the Wichita Falls Symphony. Maestro Fakhouri demonstrated skill, musicianship and understanding of the art of conducting when he led the symphony in February. I am looking forward with great anticipation to working with him during the 2017/18 season – this is an exciting time for the WFSO!”

In June 2016, Fakhouri was named Music Director of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra (Michigan). From 2004 – 2016 Fakhouri served as Music Director and Conductor of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra (North Carolina). Previous appointments include Principal Guest Conductor of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra (North Carolina) as well as Music Director and Conductor of the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra where he led the orchestra on its first international tour to Austria and Germany. He continues to be in high demand as a guest conductor. Among his many recent appearances are the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra (Lebanon), Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (New York), Cairo Symphony Orchestra (Egypt) and the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra (Sophia, Bulgaria).

In addition to conducting, Fakhouri is an active composer of a multitude of symphonic, chamber, choral and solo music. His works have been premiered and performed by the English Chamber Orchestra (UK), the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, the Mediterranean Orchestra (Italy) and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra to name a few.

Fakhouri hails from a musical family whose roots go back four generations. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition from the University of North Texas, and a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting, as well as a Master of Music in Composition/Theory from the Pennsylvania State University. He earned his Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition from West Texas A & M University.

In December 2014 in recognition of “his impressive career achievements, phenomenal leadership of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra (FSO), and dedication to music and the community” Methodist University (NC) bestowed upon him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. In March 2016 he was inducted into the Fayetteville (NC) Music Hall of Fame and in April 2016, upon the completion of a highly successful 11-season tenure with the FSO, individual symphony donors honored him with establishing “The Fouad K. Fakhouri Endowment for Artistic Excellence” – a $1.1 million fund that will “continue his legacy of excellence forever”.

Fakhouri resides in New York City with his wife Diane Lavelle, an advertising executive, and their daughter Isabella.


WFSO review: Chen gives crisp, sparkling performance


Sean Chen tackled, with an elegant yet plucky kind of youthful gusto, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s fan-fave Piano Concerto No. 2 at Saturday night’s Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra concert and painted the work with the lushness it deserved.

It was lushness aplenty, for sure, as the orchestra delivered two full-bodied symphonic, Romantic-era works thanks to a host of musicians performing.

The No. 2 is Rachmaninoff’s most famous piano concerto, a success at the outset, and it’s no wonder why.

It was written after a debilitating depression, supposedly in response to severe criticism of his work, then dedicated to the doctor, Nickolai Dahl, who helped Rachmaninoff find the light.

The result is a Victorian age, beautiful, lacy, emotionally full and dramatic composition.

And Chen owned it.

He is so fluid in his playing, with a springtime rain shower of notes gently falling in runs up and down the piano keys. Not that he doesn’t quickly move across the keys, as well. He sprinted across them many times during his performance.

There’s such a richness to his playing, echoed by the orchestra’s strings, with the WFSO this time around being helmed by Fouad Fakhouri, one of three finalist guest conductors vying to become the WFSO’s next music director/conductor.

Chen, the Crystal Medal winner (third place) in the 2013 Van Cliburn competition, also is a very crisp performer. He showed that tendency in the work’s third movement, the allegro scherzando.

He was particularly impressive in the first movement, in which he performs so soft, whisperlike, really, while accompanied by rich violins before slowly turning up the volume and the speed and insistence in the concerto and finally leading into the passionate second movement that exemplifies the Russian romantics. That second movement, by the way, has inspired many other musicians, including Eric Carmen on his 1970s hit “I Can’t Live.”

That first movement contrasts the finale, which is bombastic and boisterous and laden with virtuosic passages that Chen had no problem commanding.

The orchestra brings on the drama as much as pianist Chen as he attacked the piano keys.

Chen was met by a well deserved standing ovation after the work’s end.

The orchestra showcased its many talented musicians on Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, more popularly known as his “New World Symphony.” Dvorak used folk dances in the piece and African and Native American influences that he gathered during his time in America from 1892 to 1895, when he was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to write the “New World Symphony.”

This is the second time I have heard the WFSO perform the Dvorak composition. The four-movement piece is one of my favorites. Somehow I always hear “Star Wars” and “Jaws” and wonder how much John Williams might have been influenced by Dvorak.

The orchestra, full and packed to the hilt with musicians, turned in some big sounds, particularly in the first movement, followed by soloists piping in with just about every section of the orchestra represented: the lavish French horns, a brief cello and violin duet, and that joyful clarinet solo.

The WFSO showed great contrast between my favorite movement, the second movement, in which the theme of the work is emphasized, and the big, joyful finale.

Lebanon-born Fouad Fakhouri had a great rapport with the audience, taking time to introduce the evening’s repertoire and tell about his ties to Texas. He studied here, at West Texas A&M University and the University of North Texas.

Saturday night’s concert was really an orchestra showcase for the WFSO with lush, rich strings, Russian romanticism, joyful clarinets and the lyricism of pianist Sean Chen.

The next WFSO concert March 25 will feature the Midtown Men, made up of members of the Broadway show “Jersey Boys.”

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @Lana Sweeten-Shul.




When pianist Sean Chen was getting ready to graduate from high school near Los Angeles, he had college acceptance letters from Harvard, MIT and Juilliard.

“If I had gone to Harvard or MIT, I’m sure I would have gone into the sciences,” Chen said. “I was interested in anything math, physics or chemistry, really, or I many have discovered something else. When I chose Juilliard to do music, my reasoning was that if after two years I hated it, I think it would have been much easier to transfer out of it to study physics than the other way around.”

Chen, the 2013 Cliburn Crystal Award-winning pianist, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra at Memorial Auditorium. The orchestra will be conducted by Fouad Fakhouri, the third finalist for the position of WFSO conductor.

Chen said he was born into a family that liked music, but no one in his family was a professional musician.

“My dad listened to a lot of ’70s rock and pop, and there was always music playing in our house.”

He began piano lessons at age 5 after his parents noticed him enjoying playing a little electronic keyboard.

“So I started lessons. When you’re a kid, you start taking lessons and then you slowly start getting into (classical) music and finding the different composers you like.”

At Juilliard, Chen also took nonmusical courses at Columbia University, such as the complete calculus series, financial economics and econometrics.

“I enjoyed computer programming, and there was a point in time when my teachers recommended me to apply for an internship doing computer graphics.”

Chen almost took the internship because it’s easy to have fears about making a career in music. But he decided against it after a series of musical opportunities arose for him.

“I am glad I stuck with it,” he said.

The pianist completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Juilliard. In 2013, he placed third in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. So rather than go for a doctorate in music and become a teacher, he completed his artist diploma at the Yale School of Music in 2014 to focus on performance.

Doing well at such a major competition provided the pianist with support and management.

“There are plenty of brilliant pianists out there,” he said. “The trick is getting support. Without that, I would not be performing as much as I do now.”

The 28-year-old Chen has played all over America, as well as a handful of concerts in Europe and China.

Chen will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, in C minor with the orchestra. After an intermission, the orchestra will perform Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, Op. 95 in E minor.

“The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto is just one of those pieces you know,” he said. “It’s like Grieg and Tchaikovsky and a couple of Beethoven and Mozart concertos. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto has some of the best-known melodies of any classical piece.”

Pop singer Eric Carmen famously borrowed from the piece’s second movement in his hit single, “All by Myself.”

“When Rachmaninoff wrote the concerto, he was coming out of this very depressive state of his life. This concerto is sort of his recovery piece he wrote to get back on track. It’s very dramatic. There are some very fun-to-play passages, and people really like it.”

Chen is frequently praised for his ability to communicate music to audiences. Part of that, he explained, is having a very good concept of the music in his head and then knowing what he wants to communicate. “It’s not a matter of playing the music because it’s been played this way for a long time.

His ongoing interest in math and science actually helps him communicate what he hears to the audience

“Just because you feel something when you’re on stage doesn’t mean the audience is going to feel it. You have to, in a way, dissect and pinpoint the essence of the expression.

“What makes it feel sad or lyrical or agitated or excited? You have to distill those into executable parameters or else you’ll end up spending a lot more time feeling things than actually have them come out.”


What: Pianist Sean Chen with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18

Where: Memorial Auditorium, 1300 Seventh St.

Admission: $10 to $35

Information: or 940-723-6202



World on a string: Trans-Siberian violinist at WFISD


Mark Wood, toting a seven-string electric violin of his own design that looks more Eddie Van Halen than Itzhak Perlman, did perhaps the scariest of things.

He performed for the toughest critics — a few hundred elementary-school students.

The Juilliard-trained, original member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (and inventor of the first solid body electric violin), returned to Wichita Falls Monday for four days of workshops and talks with Wichita Falls ISD teachers and elementary-school students.

At Fowler Elementary School Tuesday, Wood churned out the Beatles’ “Lonely People” on his pointy, lightning shaped electric violin, along with a country song for good measure — a variety of tunes to introduce young students to the different colors of music.

“Who knows what this is?” he asked Fowler students while holding up a traditional four-string violin, then showed students his seven-string electric violin.

“Do I need that many strings?” he asked with a smile.

Not many of the students knew, however, what a violin bow is called.

One student piped up: “It’s a music stick.”

“A music stick? I kind of like that,” Wood said.

This week, Wood will be visiting eight Wichita Falls ISD schools and will venture into the region to City View Elementary School and Olney High School. He also helmed a teacher workshop at Rider High.

The visit is the second to Wichita Falls for Wood, who the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra brought to town to work with the WFISD’s strings students for their All-Strings Festival in 2015-16. His visits have been made possible by the Priddy Foundation.

Wayne Bennett, interim music director for the symphony, said it was in the orchestra’s plans to bring Wood back to town work with about half of the elementary schools this year.


“It’s to get them familiar with music and all different kinds of music,” Bennett said of Wood’s work with the students. He added that the symphony wants to expose students to “alternative ways to play the violin.”

Students shouldn’t feel violins are meant only for classical music; they can play rock or bluegrass, country or fuse their sound with rap — whatever they might want to do. Violin doesn’t have to fit a stereotype, Bennett said.

It was Bennett’s vision to bring Wood to town for last year’s “Electrify Your Strings” program. Wood’s appearance is part of a bigger vision of the WFSO as far as its music education mission.

For the past three years, the arts organization has been adding junior-high and high-schoolers to its arts enhancement programs in the schools. Just last week, the symphony, in concert with the Wichita Falls ISD, brought in the Dallas String Quartet to perform for middle-school students.

Plans are for Wood to return in the 2017-18 school year to work with eight more elementary schools.

He will be at City View Elementary School and Olney High Wednesday. Then Thursday, he will visit Lamar, Milam, Fain and Southern Hills to get these students excited enough, possibly, to want to take up an instrument once they reach middle school and high school, where the Wichita Falls ISD is concentrating its orchestral program.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.


Music on a string: Quartet melds classical, rock, jazz

When violinist Wayne Bennett, who is also interim music director for the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, saw the Dallas String Quartet play at Midwestern State University in 2015, he had one of those “a-ha” moments.

“When I saw them perform, I thought they are the epitome of not doing what you think they’re going to be doing. A friend of mine thought he was at a ’70s rock concert.”

To enhance the musical horizons of junior high and high school students, Bennett recommended to the symphony’s education program committee members that they bring the quartet in to work with young strings musicians.

In addition to working with strings students, the ensemble also will perform a live free concert 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at Akin Auditorium on the Midwestern State University campus. Seating is first come, first serve.

The musicians of the Dallas String Quartet will teach a master class to junior high and high school strings students.

“They will play, talk about themselves and show the students some techniques,” Bennett said. “We want to show kids that there are alternate ways to do strings. Strings are not just limited to playing in a symphony orchestra or playing Mozart and Beethoven. They can do almost anything.”

The proof is in the eclectic Dallas quartet, which was formed by former Southern Methodist University students nearly nine years ago. Viola player Ion Janca is from Romania, violinist Tatiana Glava from Moldova, violinist Melissa Priller hails from Chicago, and recently arrived bassist Young Heo is South Korean.

The quartet performs classical music, classic rock, Latin, jazz and a little country music.

“The first half of our evening performance will be as a classical string quartet, and we’ll do music like Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ and Elgar’s ‘Salut d’Amour,'” Janca said. “In the second half, we will switch to the electric quartet.”

They will perform Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and “1,000 Years” from the “Twilight” soundtrack, as well as mashups and medleys, such as combining Paganini and Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit, “I Will Survive.”

“Our Thursday performance is almost like a journey from where we started (as a quartet) to our latest album, ‘DSQ,’” he said. The group will play about half of the songs from “DSQ,” which was released in August 2016.

What is different about “DSQ,” he said, is that it includes the group’s first original song, “Drops of Jewels,” which he wrote about his 3-year-old son. The tune mixes classical and pop and came from mornings when he would awake at 6 a.m. to strum his violin and play for his child to stop his crying.

The audience will be introduced to the group’s newest member, Heo, who is a recent University of North Texas graduate.

“We wanted to bring someone in with some jazz experience,” Janca said. “He’s a fantastic player who was with the One O’Clock Lab (jazz) Band and brings a little different attributes to our band.”

There should be something musically for everyone, Janca said.

“There’s classical, there’s jazz, there’s Latin, there’s pop, there’s rock. We won’t forget anyone.”

The members of the Dallas String Quartet enjoy doing outreach for younger musicians

“Whenever we work for certain symphonies, we do outreach. They like for us to play, because they want children to realize that in addition to Mozart and Bach, the kids can also play styles of popular music.”

Following the performance, Bennett said violinist Mark Wood will return to work with the Wichita Falls Independent School District in the middle of January for three days of school concerts and a teacher workshop.

Wood, a founding member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is a rock ‘n’ roll electric violinist who also designs his own instruments. In May 2016, he led students at the All-City Strings Festival.

IF YOU GO            

What: Dallas String Quartet

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan 12

Where: Akin Auditorium, Midwestern State University, 3410 Taft Blvd.

Admission: Free



Lana Sweeten-Shults , Times Record News 10:13 a.m. CST December 11, 2016

Hark! The choirs did sing, and they were spectacular.

Soprano Melissa Ward did sing, too, and she was spectacular, standing ovation included.

And the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, whose numbers were rounded out by the 60-member or so Wichita Falls Youth Symphony Orchestra?

Yes, stupendously spectacular.

The WFSO, after several years of not tooting its own horns with the Wichita Falls ISD’s combined choirs, did so once again alongside some tremendous local talent Dec. 10 at Memorial Auditorium for its Hometown Holiday concert.

What’s amazing about the hometown-themed holiday concerts is that it’s a rare opportunity to see local talent all concentrated on one stage.

“Is she local?” one symphony-goer asked after Ward’s knock-out rendition of “Oh, Holy Night” – a performance that gave you goosebumps when she hit that high note while singing “Oh night … divine!”

That symphony-goer was surprised to learn that she is from the Wichita Falls area.

A couple hundred or more choir students from Hirschi, Wichita Falls and Rider high schools nailed their performance on several works.

“Carol of the Bells,” directed by Rider choir director Melanie Coons, resonated as the combined choirs’ many voices pipe in with so many different vocal parts going on simultaneously. It was a resplendent performance, though not quite my favorite from the combined choirs.

I gravitated toward the more spiritual pieces, namely “Follow That Star,” helmed by Hirschi choir director Mineasa Nesbit, and “Star in the East,” led by Wichita Falls High choir director Chris Jarvis, complete with clapping and insistent foot-stomping for rhythm.

Those songs stood out among the mostly traditional reverent tunes generally heard at Christmastime.

The choir also turned in a beautiful, peace-inducing “Silent Night,” directed by Rider assistant choir director Sarah Cook.

What I loved seeing was the choirs working together so well and ending a phrase so crisply. They gave strong performances.

Ward was so confident during “O Holy Night,” arranged by David Clydesdale, which included a prologue from the Bible about the birth of Jesus. Ward has such a powerful voice that stuns you, particularly when she hits those high notes with abandon.

Though, the favorite piece of the evening for my 12-year-old co-reviewer was Jeff Tyzik’s “The 12 Gifts of Christmas,” a rendition of the “12 Days of Christmas” that featured different sections of the orchestra as gifts. My favorite “gift” was the brassy horn section, which went into snazzy big band mode, and then hearing the orchestra break into mini Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart popular works was just fun.

It was one of those effervescent numbers, and the orchestra was lively and entertaining throughout.

The WFSO followed tradition for this concert, which included an audience sing-along section, as well as an appearance by Santa and the traditional end of the hometown Christmas concerts, a performance of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” “Sleigh Ride” comes complete with percussion and brass sounds in which you really do somehow hear a horse-pulled sleigh.

I can’t fail to mention the Wichita Falls Youth Symphony, directed by Susan Harvey, which added such depth and texture to this holiday performance. They made the orchestra sound fuller and richer – in particular, I heard those happy flutists in the opening number, Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.”

In past years, the two orchestras weren’t always in sync, but this year, the main and youth orchestras played as one and sounded as strong as ever.

And then there was the evening’s guest conductor, Jerry Steichen, music director of the Macon (Georgia) Symphony Orchestra, though he’s from Tonkawa, Oklahoma.

It’s too bad Steichen isn’t one of the finalists for the symphony conductor job. He had such a rapport with the audience and is so likable and energetic. He was one of the joys of the evening.

The only thing I wished by the end of the concert was to hear Mineasa Nesbit sing. The Hirschi choir director also is one of those stunning local talents.

The WFSO’s next concert will be 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Memorial Auditorium and will feature pianist Sean Chen and finalist conductor Fouad Fakhouri.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.


Lana Sweeten-Shults , Times Record News 12:44 p.m. CST November 13, 2016

Oh, the sweet melodiousness of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major.

If any classical work is just joy and bliss and beauty aplenty, it’s Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2. It does not falter in sheer giddy happiness.

I call it exuberant cello-ness. On steroids.

The Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra during its Nov. 12 concert at Memorial Auditorium embraced all of that symphonic sunshine, thanks to resplendent guest artist Julie Albers on the cello. She gave this piece the lightness, effervescence and sprightliness it deserves.

It was a good time for some sheer giddy happiness. Considering the stresses of the recent election, we were all due for something lovely. Let’s make America glad again, already.

Not that this concert reached the highest high it could have, as the concert hit a slow spot or two before bursts of utter enthusiasm, particularly in the last work featuring the orchestra alone, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

The orchestra seemed to have turned down, just slightly, the vibrant energy that dazzled the audience so much in its opening concert in October. The WFSO also lost some of the nuances it displayed recently, namely all the texture it added by really contrasting the highs and lows of a composition to add emphasis and dramatic effect.

Still, overall, the orchestra did not fail to convey all that infectious joy under the helm of finalist conductor Daniel Black, the associate conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Black is one of three finalists vying for the job of becoming the WFSO’s new conductor and musical director after the retirement in the spring of Candler Schaffer.

The challenge for the soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 is that, while the work seems simple and effortless in all its happiness, it is a technically demanding work.

Albers was called upon to shine more than once in virtuosic solos with no orchestral accompaniment, all while throwing in tricky double stops and octaves. The cellist also must perform much of the work on the higher register notes, which is technically harrowing in itself.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 also speeds up and slows down for some tricky metronome-challenged passages that test the musicians’ timing.

Albers moved smoothly throughout the work, seemingly effortlessly. She impressed during those solos and when she lives in those high notes, never letting them get the best of her. But she also was plucky and confident in those low notes. She was so adroit in her fingerwork and technically spot-on, and her cello emitted such rich, gilded sounds that the audience couldn’t help but feel joyful.

Her performance was lovely.

And the strings – wow!

They are spectacular, so in sync and so rich in their sound. They dominated the concert this time around in a very strings-heavy evening, at least until the final work, Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

The Haydn piece wasn’t the only time during the concert that the strings dazzled. In the opening number, Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, the violin players speed like a dervish through show-offy passages. They don’t tiptoe, but sprint, through what is yet another light, effervescent, full-happiness composition.

After the intermission, Black took time to speak with the audience about the final piece, Beethoven’s beast of a 45-minute, four-movement Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55, more popularly known as “Eroica,” or “Heroic”. He told how it was written not long after Beethoven learned he was slowly starting to lose his hearing and soon would not be able to hear at all.

This is, frankly, a mean, structurally demanding composition to perform with its dissonances, the span of human emotion it travels through, and some challenging horn passages. As musical lore goes, it was once dedicated by Beethoven to Napoleon to tell of his heroic triumphs and the great sorrow upon his death. Beethoven would later scratch Napoleon’s name out, which further adds to the legend of this work.

The orchestra was strongest in the third movement, the super-grand and very hyper and jovial scherzo. I loved it. Loved the chirping in of the amazing flutes and the horns and how one section echoed the other section. The orchestra really came together for the scherzo, with one section timed precisely to the other. The orchestra inspired a “Yeah!” yelled out from the audience at the dramatic ending of the movement. The musicians were all in, with blood, sweat and tears. They put all their energy into the movement’s very dramatic ending.

It’s also hard not to mention the second movement, “The Funeral March,” with all its low, rumbling-in-your chest notes that speak of death and that slow final walk to one’s resting place.The low-register instruments get to shine instead of playing a supporting role.

The “Eroica” did have its ups and downs, though, as the musicians really did not get fired up until those last two movements, and there were moments when the orchestra could have exploded much bigger in their sound. I’m not sure if the volume just wasn’t turned up enough, but I really wanted to feel the girth of that passion throughout the piece.

The WFSO’s next concert will be 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Memorial Auditorium.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.


Symphony, pianist Joyce Yang dazzle in season opener

Posted: Oct. 03, 2016
Photo: KT Kim Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist Joyce Yang was just 11 years old when she moved from South Korea to New York to study at Juilliard.

Photo: KT Kim Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist Joyce Yang was just 11 years old when she moved from South Korea to New York to study at Juilliard.
Contributed photo Joyce Yang will open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra's Season Saturday at Memorial Auditorium. Yang was the youngest person to become a finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She was just 19 years old.

Contributed photo Joyce Yang will open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s Season Saturday at Memorial Auditorium. Yang was the youngest person to become a finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She was just 19 years old.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults of the Times Record News

In the universe of concertos, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is the piano concerto of piano concertos.

It is in your face and boisterous and dramatic and loud. It is insistent — then gentle — and ultimately glorious with pools of melodious beauty, its nuggets of glittering, pretty grandeur mesmerizing.

And what pianist Joyce Yang does with this piano concerto of piano concertos is breathtakingly spectacular.

From those opening crashes of piano chords, relentlessly pounding and stomping up and down the keyboard, along with that waltzing Russian folk dance via orchestra softening all that drama, Yang was in command with impeccable technique and remained so throughout the 35-minute work.

It was a stupendous way to open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season Saturday night at Memorial Auditorium, the concert unfolding under the direction of Darryl One of the Victoria (Texas) Symphony Orchestra.

One is among three finalists vying to be named the symphony’s new conductor. He helmed an inspired concert buzzing with energy, as musicians seemed to read one another, moved together and played off each other like they hadn’t in some time.

One also brought much texture to the orchestra, really varying each composition by greatly contrasting the highs against the lows. He also exhibited a great rapport with the audience, particularly when explaining the convoluted, comedy of errors plot that is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” during the final composition of the night.

But the night really was guest artist Yang’s.

Her strength is her steadfast technique and all the passion and drama she demands of herself in the Tchaikovsky piece. Her finger work and dexterity during the incredible runs up and down the keyboard were amazing.

Not that crashing notes are all to expect from the young pianist, just 19 when she was named a Van Cliburn silver medalist. Yang brings those notes down to a whisper with such skill and dips down into those low notes with conviction.

In an interview before the concert, she spoke of having to not forget her metronome work, and she is a master of that, pulling the orchestra with her in the piece’s rhythmic directions.

The orchestra wasn’t lost in all Yang’s pianistic fire, however.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is peppered with plenty of shining moments for the orchestra, which starts off the work with perhaps the most well- known opening notes of any classical work except maybe for Beethoven’s Fifth.

The orchestra shined the most, however, in the opening work, James Beckel’s “The American Dream” from “Night Visions.”

The WFSO found the joyousness in this piece, which sang at the top of its lungs with a lightness, joviality and jauntiness.

Kudos to the French horns, which were so plucky. They formed a little corner of upbeat.

With the horns going, tambourines and triangles piping in, and the strings, too, every section of the orchestra busied itself, all sections aware of one another.

Usually, it takes the WFSO a little while to warm up. Not the case this time, as the musicians were all in and firing on all cylinders from the beginning.

This was a strong showing that left you happy at the end.

The evening ended with Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Although a fine work, this was not the composition to end the night with; it couldn’t compare to Yang and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Hands down, the concerto was the strongest piece of the evening.

Still, the orchestra did get to show its prowess once again, as this sprightly work evoked images of fairies and magic.

What was particularly amazing was the orchestra’s punctuation in the scherzo, emphasizing this note and that one and separating those notes from the rest. Brilliant.

And the zippy, nimble bowing by the strings would have made Shakespeare proud.

Although Memorial Auditorium’s loud air conditioner wasn’t as distracting as it has been at past concerts, it’s still a shame to hear it buzzing away in the background during some of the concert’s quieter moments.

Except for a couple of brass notes that weren’t as crisp as they could have been during the piano concerto, and except for choosing to end the night with a work that wasn’t the strongest of the three, Saturday’s season opener was joyful and the most impressive opening the WFSO has had in some time.

The next concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 will feature cellist Julie Albers.


By Lana Sweeten-Shults of the Times Record News

Sorry, Andy Warhol. It isn’t pop art.

It’s the Pop-Up Art Gallery, a one-day tiptoe through creative cerebralism in an out-of-left-field space with a mayfly-like modus operandi, since this gallery’s life span is just a few hours long.

The sage brick-and-mortar Guggenheim it is not. But, like the Guggenheim, the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture’s temporary Pop-Up Art Gallery, descending on downtown Saturday, celebrates art.

It will open from 3-6 p.m. in the iconic “Big Blue,” a business center in the midst of oil and gas country that also happens to be home to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum.

It’s an unusual space for art, but alliance Executive Director Margie Johnson Reese planned it that way.

“We wanted people to see that art happens everywhere,” she said, and it isn’t as if Big Blue, also known as the First Wichita Building, 719 Scott St., hasn’t been a conduit for other unique art projects.

In 2015, photographers gathered to shoot photographs for the “Blue Skies for Big Blue” project, which culminated with an art exhibit.

Visitors to the Pop-Up Art Gallery will get to view artworks by 150 youths ages 5-17 created under the guidance of eight “Teaching Artists” over four weeks this summer. The exhibit is the product of the summertime arts workshops.

While these local Teaching Artists have shared their creative skills with youth — skills from singing to performing to painting and sculpture — they also have been students themselves.

The Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture brought in national master artists to teach them how to teach.

The program, dubbed the Teaching Artists Learning Laboratory, started when Reese arrived in town six months ago.

She knew what Wichita Falls needed and had a vision to build a thriving arts community. To do so, she wanted to establish a corps of teaching artists who would share their skills with the next generation. It also would be the first step to building an economy based on the arts, which in turn would encourage artists to stay in Wichita Falls.

“It was really clear that the first thing we needed to do was find our artists,” Reese said, and the alliance did. Then it moved forward with training them. The hope is that this initial corps of eight will teach more artists.

Saturday’s Pop-Up Art Gallery will feature the works of youths from several community organizations, including the Southside Youth Senter, MLK Center and the East Branch YMCA.

It also will spotlight performances by opera soprano Ashley Renee Watkins and New England Conservatory pianist Lewis Warren. They will play a mini-concert at 4 p.m. before launching into another concert at 7 p.m.

Watkins, who is on the faculty of the Lincoln Center, is one of the national master artists who worked to develop the teaching skills of local artists. And Warren has performed in Wichita Falls for a Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra fundraiser.

The symphony had long wanted to bring Warren back to town. Symphony board president Katie Parkey said Reese suggested the group join the alliance in Saturday’s Pop-Up Art Gallery, where you might not find Andy Warhol-inspired pop art but where creative cerebralism will be in tow.