FORT WORTH -- The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra seems to be onto something with its American-music festivals.
The first one, last year, was a distinct success. The second, which opened Friday night at Bass Hall, drew another receptive audience. There were a few empty seats but not many; the audience was definitely larger than for a typical classical concert.
The musical part of the concert went very well. There were other aspects that were pretty awkward.
First off, a large screen was lowered at the start of the program, and onto this was projected a documentary sketching out the orchestra's 100 years. That would be OK, except that the orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya's direction played as a musical background what was billed as selections from Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring suite.
This was distracting more than effective; some of the spoken words in the documentary were blotted out by musical passages below, while on the other hand much of the music faded before the pull of the documentary. You had your choice -- music or video; the two didn't work very well together.
Another awkward moment was the commentary preceding Leonard Bernstein's Age of Anxiety symphony. There was more video, comments by Buddy Bray (the orchestra's principal keyboard player) and Andres Franco (its associate conductor) as well as musical examples by the orchestra and piano soloist Leon McCawley. The video seemed gratuitous, the comments were intelligent and kind of interesting, but it made what was already a pretty long program into a longer one.
Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, conducted by Franco, was brilliant and a winning experience. I loved George Walker's gorgeous Lyric for Strings (Harth-Bedoya conducting); the orchestra's strings were in great shape. John Williams' music from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was exuberant and likable.
An approaching deadline kept me from hearing all of the Age of Anxiety, but the orchestra's atmospheric playing and McCawley's at times sensitive, at times brilliant playing seemed right on.
There'll be more American music tonight and Sunday with composers including Philip Glass, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and more.