FORT WORTH -- Friday night's concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra was not a lullaby for shrinking violets. The energy quotient was very high -- and that includes both the pieces and the musicians who played them.
The opener was a brand-new work by Peter Boyer, a former composer-in-residence with the orchestra and a man who has made his mark with Fort Worth audiences (his musical and photographic tribute to Ellis Island being one of the most impressive).
His new work, Festivities, lived up to its title. It's a bold piece that, after a loud and brassy opening, maintains an overall liveliness tempered by a couple of soft, lyrical episodes. Boyer has a gift for melody as well as a knack for generating excitement with a large orchestra, and the combination is a winner.
Guest conductor Carl St. Clair, who followed a tradition established by Miguel Harth-Bedoya by making brief opening remarks, led a performance that found the orchestra in fine fettle. Boyer was present to take some bows to an audience that clearly seemed on his side.
In the old days, Festivities wouldn't have been played because Friday concerts were shorter than Saturday's and Sunday's, but the new system lets Friday's audiences hear complete programs. Bravo.
Horacio Gutiérrez took the Bass Hall stage for Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, a work that's no stranger to Cliburn Competition audiences. It's a tart composition with some attractive, though never sentimental, melodies and enough fireworks to satisfy those who like pianistic thunder and lightning.
Gutiérrez gave a performance that was crisp, clear and exciting and handled the many shifts in tempo and mood beautifully. I especially liked his businesslike demeanor; there was absolutely no showboating.
St. Clair led another very lively performance as the program-closer. This was Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition -- an exceptional case in which an arrangement has outstripped an original for solo piano in popularity. The original hasn't completely disappeared; Cliburn Competition audiences are almost certain to hear it once or twice next spring.
St. Clair led a performance that was high in energy levels, decibels and orchestral virtuosity, and the orchestra in toto as well as individually met the work's challenges admirably.