Dallas audiences heard two music premieres this weekend, both commissioned to celebrate the legacy of John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Listeners of the symphonic work and chamber piece found the music moving and effective, whether they lived through trauma half a century ago or not.
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra premiered Conrad Tao’s The World Is Very Different Now Thursday night with performances through yesterday. Audiences KERA talked to could not believe pianist, violinist and composer Tao is still a teenager.
Carol Rawitscher: “Oh my God, 19 and he wrote this, and he…
Gilbert Bruneman: “He’s amazing. Nineteen and be able to do that…”
Carol Rawitscher and George Bruneman loved the performance. Although Tao wrote it as a stand-alone work, a video of archival Kennedy scenes ran in the concert hall. Rawitscher said the music was almost a sound track.
“It was wonderful and I don’t like contemporary music as a rule,” said Rawitscher. “It also grabbed the spirit of what happened. It was the joy and then the sadness and then the hope. And you could just feel that. And the video helped, I think.”
Bruneman, an eye-witness to the assassination, agreed.
“I thought it was great, especially the beginning, the film and all that . I was really interested because I was there when he was killed. It brought back memories. I was right on the street when he was killed so it brought back memories.”
The piece was moving for Brandon Walker too, who was born decades after the assassination.
“You know you could tell that, in the beginning of the piece, it had a very, very presidential, the trumpets coming in, an up beat feel,” said Walker. “And you could follow the piece through everything that happened. You could feel the energy with everything that happened. and then the drop, and almost that interference of the alto sax saying ‘Oh my, something happened.’ ”
Composer Tao said he didn’t write the piece as a score with a story line, but that’s how many took it. The Nasher Sculpture Center also co-commissioned a piece by composer Steven Mackey. In contrast to Tao’s full orchestral score, Mackey wrote an intimate, though longer piece for string quartet, called One Red Rose.
“I was not so much trying to depict scenes as more feelings,” Mackey said, “just sort of emotions. I can see how people would bring recollections to it. That’s fine with me.”
Mackey’s music, composed more with Jacqueline Kennedy in mind than Jack, was exciting to Kenneth Agyemang.
“It was like a very touching, moving piece,” Agyemang said. “Overall, it was pretty great. That was really intense, really heavy, dark deep, and towards the end it got to be I guess a lot more happier. Just, you couldn’t forget about the accomplishments he had and just the mark he had.”
Many who heard Steve Mackey’s piece and that of Conrad Tao say both composers left their mark on Dallas this weekend.