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Posted on Fri, Jun. 04, 2004

'Too Hot to Handel' lives up to billing

Special to the Star-Telegram

In a surprise move, the Fort Worth Symphony began its Concerts in the Garden series in the Botanic Garden on Thursday night without a bang.

Their Too Hot to Handel program offered a traditional series opener -- the Music for the Royal Fireworks, which was first presented by that German composer for the British royalty in 1749. But unlike previous years, the work was placed at the top of the bill -- without the fireworks. That may sound a bit like doing a trumpet concerto without a trumpet, but the idea was to give the audience a chance to appreciate the work without the distraction of an exploding sky over it.

The orchestra's crisply stated performance of this Baroque gem, led by the symphony's music director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, did just that. And, lest anyone feel cheated, the work was reprised at the end of the concert with a shower of fireworks flashy enough to satisfy any fan of the pyrotechnic arts and loud enough to set off car alarms all around the storm-ravaged garden. It was a clever programming ploy that worked nicely.

And the rest of the program was so good that no one seemed to mind that the orchestra slipped in a couple of commercials.

Pianist Michael Hawley, co-winner of the 2002 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, was featured in a performance of Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2. And, gee, the 2004 amateur competition just happens to be under way at TCU. What a coincidence.

But while Hawley, a director of special projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in his day job, may have distinguished himself as an amateur, he sounded like a pro Thursday night. He gave no indication of being intimidated by either Liszt or the idea of performing with a major orchestra. The Yale grad also maintained his amateur status (in Fort Worth, at least) by donating his services for this concert.

In the concert's second half, the orchestra offered a work not listed in the program, the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. The exuberant work was offered as a bonus to remind the audience of 1,401 that the orchestra will be doing a Tchaikovsky festival at Bass Hall in August. This trailer suggested that we should look forward to the movie.

Overall, it was a fine start to one of the best things about summer in Fort Worth.

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