It's amazing that composers who existed long before The Space Age were able to pen music that so fittingly embodies the mystery and wonder of cosmographic exploration.
Listen to the opening fanfare of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey — the futuristic tale of mankind's self-awakening that premiered 50 years ago in May — and it's hard to imagine a better score for the film. Yet Richard Strauss was actually thinking about the philosophical writings of Friedrich Nietzsche when he composed Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 in 1896. Not such a leap of faith on the part of Kubrick: Nietzsche's theme of the transition between ape and Übermensch is fittingly apropos for the sci-fi film's tale of evolutionary change.
We'll hear Strauss's music during "Cosmic Beginnings" — the opener for The Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival's popular orchestra series — along with English composer Gustav Holst's The Planets, Op. 32. Holst became fascinated with the subject of astrology when holidaying in Majorca with his artist friends and was soon reading their horoscopes. His seven movement suite, named for planets in our solar system, premiered 100 years ago. Holst was so ahead of his time that his influence can be heard in the scores of several contemporary films.
Credit for this out-of-this-world pairing goes to Franz Anton Krager, the festival's music director and chief conductor. This will be Krager's 26th year and he always assigns himself as conductor of the opening concert, taking on the monumental task of creating an orchestra out of musicians who have never performed together.
"It’ll come together because the students I’ve got coming are tops. We’ve got 100 students coming from all points on the globe. Good musicians, wonderful people, all on the edge to being taken in to orchestras, all on the verge of their careers," says Krager.
The "Cosmic Beginnings" concert will open with Zarathustra. "The first sound of the new orchestra this summer will be the one that everybody knows. But then it immediately goes into the rest of the piece which is 28 minutes long. When you hear the whole piece, that introduction actually comes back in the middle of the piece, works itself into a frenzy," says Krager. "It just ties the piece together."
The four week Texas Music Festival is an orchestral fellowship program that brings in guest conductors, local musicians and faculty from the Moores and Shepherd schools of music. We'll see Maestro Hans Graf, the Houston Symphony's former director of music, in his first local guest conducting appearance since winning the Grammy Award in January.
"I think the Texas Music Festival has become one of this country’s major music festivals," says Krager. "We are on par with the best music festivals in the United States. We’ve earned it. When I came 26 years ago it was good but Alan Austin, our artistic director, has been a major force to taking this thing to the next level.
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"We’ve really created something quite special."
The 29th Annual Texas Music Festival "Cool & Classical" Orchestra Series is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, June 9-30, Moores Opera House, Moores School of Music, 3333 Cullen, 713-743-3388, tmf.uh.edu, $15 to $80. An additional concert is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 22, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, free.
The Texas Music Festival continues with its Perspectives Series, featuring chamber music performances from Texas Music Festival faculty artists and guests. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, June 5-26, Dudley Recital Hall, Fine Arts Building, University of Houston, 713-743-3388, tmf.uh.edu, $15 to $20.
The festival's Young Artist Series allows Houstonians to see these rising talents through a series of free recitals, concerts and competitions. For more information, visit uh.edu/kgmca//music/tmf/season-schedule/young-artists.