Will the Music of Donnacha Dennehy Stand the Test of Time?

Music by Donnacha Dennehy, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s 2013-14 composer-in-residence, opened Friday's concert. The Irish-born composer has a unique approach to composition, here represented by his seventeen-minute tone poem Crane.

Last weekend, the Fort Worth Symphony and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya once again proved that programming a classical subscription series concert can integrate broad audience appeal, new music, intelligent placement of works from the classical music “museum,” and appropriate showcasing of a guest artist.

Music by Donnacha Dennehy, the orchestra’s 2013-14 composer-in-residence, opened the concert I attended at Bass Performance Hall on Friday night. Time will tell whether Irish-born Dennehy’s obviously unique approach to composition, here represented by his seventeen-minute tone poem Crane, will endure. For now, there’s much to be said in favor of his slightly off-kilter minimalism, as well as his ear for orchestral and harmonic color. The most striking  aspect of Crane is its depiction of a gradual elevation in altitude, as if from the viewpoint of someone riding on a gradually rising construction crane. The work was originally conceived as a ballet for actual construction cranes—a complex project that was never realized—and this may have influenced the patient time-span of the work. On first hearing, seventeen minutes stretched the material; however, the slowly progressing journey to arrive at Dennehy’s Mahleresque high altitude was in many ways worthwhile.

Programming two substantial and lengthy works by the same composer on one concert is tricky business, but in this case, the gamble paid off in the pairing of the Second Violin Concerto of Prokofiev with the same composer’s Symphony No. 7. Guest soloist Anne Akiko Meiers brought an almost old-fashioned, high-intensity focus to the concerto, keeping the momentum and interest zipping along in spite of a few very brief imperfections in intonation and one or two rough spots in the orchestra. The slow movement is, of course, one of the high points of lyrical twentieth-century modernism.

Prokofiev’s valedictory Seventh Symphony proved a rewarding close for the concert and, with its gentle, often reminiscent tone, served as a fine complement to the general boldness of the concerto. I couldn’t help hearing hints of Puccini (in the first movement), Broadway (in the second), Schubert (in the third), and Sullivan (of Gilbert –and-, in the fourth), not always even with a recognizable Prokofievian overtone. Prokofiev, beaten down by Stalinism and nearing the end of his life, here adamantly makes peace with the musical past. The orchestra was in excellent form for the performance.

Upcoming weeks will bring the announcements of repertoire and artists for the Dallas Symphony and Fort Worth Symphony for 2013-14. Let’s hope the Fort Worth folks continue their admirable programming policy in the classical series and the Dallas orchestra moves away from its often mundane programming and odd avoidance of contemporary orchestral music.


  • krwatson

    Anne Akiko Meyers was incredible to watch. This was truly a lovely evening hosted by Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra!