A lot of people talk about Fort Worth as a city of cowboys and culture, but the Hall Ensemble is doing something about it.
"Since the Stock Show doesn't have anything classical that goes with it, we thought, 'Let's try this out,'" said Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra cellist Karen Hall in explaining "A Cattle Baron's Concert." It's actually a trio of performances Friday and Saturday at the historic Thistle Hill mansion that are intended to recall the grand days of the early 20th century, when elegant music was presented in the parlors of the well-to-do.
"We're trying to bring chamber music back to its roots of being performed in the home," said Hall, who, with her husband, FWSO principal bassoonist Kevin Hall, founded the Hall Ensemble three years ago.
"We were looking for a niche that would not tread on other people's territory. And the house-concert concept had not really been developed here," said Kevin Hall, noting the wealth of outstanding chamber groups in our area. "We embarked on it as an experiment. But our last six performances have been sold out. We doubled our concerts in this season because of demand."
The Halls, who will be joined by violinists Pei-Ju Wu and Molly Baer and violist Daniel Sigale, feel that the immediacy of chamber music is what draws listeners to their performances.
"Our series has been surprisingly successful because our patrons are fascinated with being that close to people who are actually making the music and being able to watch the instruments," said Kevin Hall. "You can communicate so much more intimately, so it is extremely rewarding. There is definitely a synergy between the audience and the performers. We both feed off of that. It makes us play better,"
Be aware that this effort to unite the concepts of cowboys and culture while the Stock Show holds forth nearby does not really qualify as the most extreme example of the Halls' quest to spread the gospel of chamber music. Their adventures in that realm have included a series of concerts performed on stops along a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
The program for the three concerts this weekend was developed to echo the salon performances of long ago. It is an eclectic offering of instrumental chamber pieces (sometimes just a single movement from a string quartet, for example) mixed with opera arias, performed by singers from the Fort Worth Opera Studio. The composers include Haydn, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi and Donizetti, among others.
And the concerts, which include wine and refreshments, will not only sound like an evening of music from a time gone by, they will look the part.
"We will be in period costumes. My dress is huge. It is going to be interesting trying to play the cello while wearing it," said Karen Hall, who also invites the audience to participate in the nostalgia. "I know women who love to get dressed up, and they say, 'I have this great dress but I don't have anywhere to wear it.' So these concerts give them a chance to do that. And Thistle Hill is the perfect place for the concerts because it was built by a cattle baron [A.B. Wharton and his wife, Electra]. And we know that the cattle barons of that era often brought highbrow music into their homes."