When, in 1988, the musicians of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra voted to ask Italian Riccardo Chailly to become the first non-Dutch conductor in the Netherlands orchestra's then-100-year history, they thought they knew what they were getting. The Concertgebouw (named for the famed concert hall it occupies) had long been one of Europe's more respected ensembles, but it had also become a bit staid. Chailly, the musicians thought, would shake things up a little.
"But what I brought was much more than they expected," Chailly says with a laugh from Amsterdam, where he has just finished running the orchestra through a selection from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. It's the first time, he adds, that the Concertgebouw has ever done Weill. Prior to Chailly's arrival, the orchestra had also never played the compositions of modern German composer Paul Hindemith, or ventured into the 12-tone music of the second Vienna school. Since he took over, such works have become second nature, fleshing out a repertoire that's still heavy with composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. "I was chosen to bring a bit of the 20th century," says Chailly, "and I brought it in kind of a drastic way. So drastic that in the beginning, it was a tornado here. People were getting very nervous and wondering about the orchestra's future."
The Dutch audience, which viewed the Concertgebouw as a national treasure, was suspicious as well. Chailly argues, though, that he was simply being more true to Concertgebouw tradition than his critics. Under Willem Mengelberg, who directed the orchestra for half a century, the Concertgebouw was known for bringing in living composers and performing current works. It was only after Mengelberg's tenure that the musical choices began to ossify. Today, Chailly is widely acknowledged to have breathed new life into the Concertgebouw, turning an admired and respected orchestra into one that's also avidly enjoyed.
Houstonians will have a chance to check out what Chailly has wrought when, for the first time in 35 years, the Concertgebouw comes to town. Though he's happy with the program he's prepared for Houston -- Debussy's La Mer, Ravel's Daphnis et Chlo, Suite No. 2, and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps -- Chailly's a little disappointed he won't be able to play a rarely heard Shostakovich piece written for jazz orchestra. "The big finale features a Hawaiian guitar," he marvels. "Can you imagine it?" That piece will have to wait until he gets to Carnegie Hall in a few weeks. But Chailly does say he has a similarly odd Shostakovich work up his sleeve for a possible Houston encore. "It depends on how enthusiastic the audience is," he notes. "But then, I've heard that Texas audiences can be enthusiastic." -- Mitchell J. Shields
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, February 20, at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Tickets are $10 to $57. For info, call 227-2787.
Tom Jones -- The essence of macho, Jones is a 54-year-old dream come true for baby-boomer moms who drag their daughters to see this Welsh bodice-ripper strut his stuff and -- oh yeah -- sing. It's tempting to snicker at Jones' attempts at staying current through collaborations with hip youngsters such as Art of Noise and New Model Army, but just when you think you've nailed the guy for trying too hard to be cool, he'll take a wimpy original such as EMF's "Unbelievable," sing the hell out of it and make the song his own. In fact, it's not the old hits that keep his shows interesting; it's the sexy, thundering covers of the newer stuff. At the Houston Arena Theatre, 7324 Southwest Freeway, at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 17. Tickets are $25 and $30. 988-1020. (Greg Barr)
Roadhouse Revival Tour -- Though hailing from the active blues waters of Oakland, California, HighTone Records has never really been just a blues label. After a few years of reputation building with the likes of Robert Cray, HighTone expanded into new realms, especially the raw anti-Nashville country spawned in Texas and other havens. Now, HighTone is exposing a slice of itself with the Roadhouse Revival Tour, five stablemates combining for a nonstop rockabilly, honky-tonk and roots-rock extravaganza. Headlining the show is Dave Alvin, whose countrified roustabout singing and songwriting puts crossover pretenders such as Garth Brooks to shame. Alvin and his band, the Guilty Men, move seamlessly from rabid rockers to mournful, stripped-down ballads, creating an atmospheric sweat that stings sweetly. With Alvin is Texan Dale Watson, who, if he wasn't born in a honky-tonk, has made it his permanent address. Watson is the kind of sawdust-and-beer country throwback who dries mouths and waters eyes with just a few twangs and drawls. If commercial country has a polar opposite, Watson embodies it.
Drawing from the vaults of the great Western swing bands, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys blur the line between vintage and modern. It's tough to keep a consistent edge in a form as stylized as that defined by Bob Wills and Milton Brown, but the Boys manage to stay fresh with the help of a knack for writing. Fourth on the list is Buddy Miller, who, inspired equally by bluegrass, soul and weirdo psychedelia, makes an altogether different kind of country. Finally, there's Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, a pastor of the First House of Polyester Worship whose astute vision and acid tongue slaughters even the most sacred cow. Wirtz rebirths social satire in a way that leaves his victims belly-laughing. A reminder: once the Roadhouse Revival starts, it's not likely to stop for air until the last note fades into the night. So bring an oxygen tank. At the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, at 9 p.m. Sunday, February 18. Tickets are $10. 869-COOL. (Bob Burtman
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