Saturday, January 26, 2013

From The Top - by Nicholas

From the Top was taping its NPR show in the Meyerson Symphony Hall, and my mother had bought tickets because it was a radio show that we listened to regularly, and some friends, notably Brian and Matthew were performing a piece with the rest of the GDYO at the concert. On January 4, 2013, our family went to the Meyerson Symphony Center to listen to three brilliant young musicians from nearby areas at the "From the Top" concert.  Along with the 3 musicians and Christopher O’Riley, host of From the Top as well as an outstanding classical pianist, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) was also performing. Not only that, the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra (GDYO) was to play a piece at the end of the show with DSO. 

The special show featured the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as well as performances from three young musicians with the following program:

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra performing the Roman Carnival Overture by Hector Berlioz

Violinist Aakash Patel performing the first movement from the 3rd Violin Concerto by Camille Saint-Saens

Cellist Russell Houston (2012 Lynn Harrell Concerto Competition Winner) performing "Schelomo" by Ernest Bloch

Host Christopher O'Riley performing the third movement from Concerto No. 2 in F major for Piano and Orchestra by Dmitri Shostakovich with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Composer Chase Dobson's Piano Trio No. 1, the second movement, Sporting of the Gods, will be performed by Chase, Aakash, and Russell

Members of the GDYO will play "The Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition in a side-by-side performance with The Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

At the start it was rather confusing. In our seats we were able to see the DSO members sitting in their places and filing in. Almost as soon as Maestro Thomas Hong and concertmaster Nathan Olson arrived the music began. The orchestra burst into song. The piece lasted approximately 10 minutes, but time flew and it seemed much shorter. When that wonderful piece ended, a city council woman came and spoke of how wonderful the Meyerson was. Finally Christopher O’Riley and announcer Joanne Robinson came on stage. With a short introduction, the first young musician, Aakash Patel came on stage. He had an excellent performance, and then he was interviewed. I find it inspiring that he bought his first violin on EBay and used YouTube to learn advanced violin techniques. Russell Houston came up on stage next. He played a piece by Ernest Bloch that won him the 2012 Lynn Harrell Concerto Competition. He said that he had wanted to play the piece as soon as he heard it for the first time. It certainly was a great piece, and I think he really loved it. After Christopher O’Riley played a piece with the DSO, we had a short intermission and just as soon we were back in our seats. Chase Dobson, pianist and composer had written a piano trio, and the three musicians, Chase, Russell and Aakash played the piece together. Chase’s piece was inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, and how the gods play with humanity but it usually has a big impact on humans, thus the name “Sporting of the Gods”. He had conducted this piece before in Carnegie Hall, his first time conducting. He apparently received 2 standing ovations, which is impressive.

Overall, all of the music was beautiful and well played. I enjoyed the interviews of the young musicians, of which some parts were really funny. I probably laughed the loudest when Aakash was being interviewed, and said that he came from an Indian family, which was basically a Mexican family, only Indian. All their music moved me, especially the last piece, “The Great Gate of Kiev”. It was excellent and I hope I can go to another From the Top Concert, although listening to it on the radio is fun as well. I enjoyed it a lot, and luckily I didn’t fall asleep like last time at a concert! I look forward to listening to other great young musicians on WRR Classical 101.1. (This recording airs on February 16th at 9:00 am)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

From the Top - by Justin

Every Saturday morning on the local classical radio station we listen to and thoroughly enjoy From the Top, an NPR radio program showcasing the young musicians of America. On each show there are several young musicians that perform alongside the show’s host, the acclaimed pianist Christopher O’Riley. Each week there is something new to look forward to with a variety of classical instrumentalists, from shrill flutists to resonant bassists, with O’Riley’s constant humor in the background. It was no surprise that when we discovered that From the Top was recording here in Dallas, our family had a unanimous decision to go see the concert.

The Dallas From the Top taping was slightly more unconventional than a normal program. The Meyerson Symphony Center, the location of the concert, is home to a phenomenal group of musicians called the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (locally just called the DSO). Instead of performing with Christopher as performers on the show usually do, all three teen virtuosos and Christopher O’Riley himself played with the DSO accompanying them.
The first musician of the night was Aakash Patel, a violinist who not only got his first instrument off eBay, but also learned how to play by watching YouTube videos. His performance of Saint-Saens’s Violin Concerto No. 3, Movement 1 (Allegro non troppo) was simply fantastic. His clear solo accompanied by the DSO showed his talent as a violinist. During his “call and response” section of the piece, he leaned in towards the orchestra, as if dueling each other with their musical lines.
Locally famous cellist Russell Houston was on stage next, giving the audience a melancholy and moving performance of Bloch’s “Schelomo.” His profound skill with the bow showed with his mastery of the piece, deftly navigating through the complex melodies portraying the tragic history of the Jewish heritage. The emotion Russell put into his playing showed as he appeared to be lost in his own world of music, producing a haunting melody against the full background accompaniment of the DSO.
Not only did this time’s From the Top showcase talented musicians, but also an all-around musical genius. Composer, conductor, and piano prodigy Chase Dobson performed alongside previous musicians Aakash and Russell in his own composition, “Sporting with the Gods” from his Piano Trio No. 1. Although this piece did not leave as lasting an impression as Russell’s performance of “Shelomo,” all three musicians handled the piece marvelously.
To cap off this wonderful concert, From the Top presented a host of great young musicians who performed literally side-by-side with the DSO. Fantastic young musicians from the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, who just went on tour in Eastern Europe last summer, performed the majestic and glorious finale to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, “The Great Gate of Kiev.” The ringing melody line and all the supporting lines underneath produced a symphony of musical colors from the orchestra on stage, from the high trumpets to the timpani and percussion providing the resonating support lines. It was a magnificent piece to end such a magnificent concert.
The From the Top concert provided an excellent outlet for me [and the family] to submerge myself back into the realm of music and emerge refreshed. There is no doubt that we will be listening to From the Top every weekend for the months to come.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kayaking on the Head Water of San Marcos River

The Spring Lake at the heart of the City of San Marcos, Texas, is the head water of San Marcos River. The water in the lake comes  from the Edward Aquifer via 200 springs at its bottom. The river flows through the City and is joined by Blanco River 4 miles from head water. After a total of 75 miles it flows into the Guadalupe River.  

We visited Spring Lake area on December 29, 2012 for a day, after a white Christmas at home.

kayak dock

Aquarera at the head water is a popular place, even in the cold Texas winter (~ 40F). Many families go there to visit the water center and to take the glass bottom boat tour 

Spring lake is a very delicate ecosystem, and critical habitat for several endangered species,  water access is restricted. Only Aquarena's kayaks/boats can be in the water, and kayak tour is guided by a staff. We were the only group that afternoon to paddle in glass bottom kayaks on the lake. 
looking into water through the glass bottom of kayaks

Our guide is a UT San Marcos geology student, who is very knowledgeable about the geology, ecosystem and wild life at the lake.  We were led a leisure pace to various locations on the lake to see underwater features - bubbling springs at the bottom of the lake, historical underwater landmarks, fishes, turtles and more.

foliage in winter?

Several observations: the water is clear though it did look like that due to reflections,  spring water is at 72F constant  So it felt warm that day. One side of the lake is kind of hilly, the other side is flat, in fact, according to our guide, it is the boundary between hill country and south Texas prairie.

In stead of paddling down to the river, we made a turn to the wetland area of the spring lake preserve. This area is a winter stop for many migrating birds. A good turn!

In addition to turtles popping up here and there, fishes swimming by the kayaks, there was something we did not hear about before. The guide directed our attention to a beaver like animal in the water, nutria. The second time we spotted a nutria, it was near the bank, I paddled fast to get close to capture its image when it was out of water. When it is out of water, I could tell it is definitely not a beaver. The third time I saw it was when we were on the way back to dock. I gave that nutria a bit chase to make it jump and dive; it swam really fast.
Nutria in water
Nutria on a log
The wetland at Spring lake and surrounding wooded area is an oasis for birds and water fowls - numerous birds chirping in the trees along the wetland, many I could not name. With the help from our guide I could name a couple - king fisher, which looked like a blue jay to me, and a big grey heron.

The wetland at spring lake is an oasis for me as well, still, clear reflective water, sounds of birds, sights of wildlife. I kept paddling forward at a slow but steady pace, ahead of the rest of the group, caught scenes the rest did not see, like nutria on the log, and close up of grey heron and its reflection in the water. I was immersed in this natural beauty, enjoying every minute of it. Then our guide called out, "time to turn around". One hour on the water was a bit short for us!!

We all agreed that it was one of the best kayaking experiences we had had.

silhouette of a big bird
A King Fisher
Grey Heron
Paddling in Spring Lake