Music Reviews


4-28-14- Meadows vocal students prove that opera can be contemporary and cutting edge

If you think Meadows opera is dated and behind the times, last Friday’s Opera Free For All in the lobby of the Bob Hope Theatre would have certainly proved you wrong.

Directed by Hank Hammett, the Opera Free For All included all new works written in 2013-2014 by students, faculty and other musical artists and was very much “cutting edge.”

“Before an opera is produced in a full-scale production, there are always many stops along the way,” said Director Hank Hammett before the performance began.

Hammett has high hopes that Friday marked a stop along the way for the excerpts from the new works.

This performance featured a new full-length mini-opera: Mobile Home by Charlie McCarron, on a libretto by award-winning librettist Lori Ann Stephens, a professor in the SMU English department.

This piece featured music students Kristen Meyers as Rubie and Arielle Collier as Mamma and was executed flawlessly. Rubie began by asking her child, “It’d be nice to have a man, a good man, would it baby?” After a retardando in the music, Mamma replied much quieter, “You’d best better not waste your time ‘cause time don’t waste on you…A man ain’t happy with a sometime wife.”

At this point in the music, there were no notes on the base clef, and it sounded like a lullaby. Rubie then responded, “Why are you so quiet?…Love could happen, and if it don’t, it should.”

While Mamma tries to get Rubie’s feet on the ground, Rubie continues to dream of a good man: “Couldn’t it happen?” The song ends with Mamma saying, “Come to reality.”

Meyers’ and Collier’s and voices contrasted just enough in this song to complement each other perfectly in this arrangement by Stephens and McCarron.

The lineup also featured Godfather Death, with an original libretto by J. Stephen Gardner (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14).

Also showcased were scenes from new operas currently under construction by SMU’s own Simon Sargon and Vince Gover and Dallas-based composer Jason Mulligan.

More than opera was featured at Friday’s performance. Interspersed between the scenes, students from the Department of English Mari Hailu, Joshua Kumler, and Analise Riddle performed their original poetry.

The title does not disappoint – the opera with its brand new works was, in fact, free for all.

The performance was partnered at the piano by Hammett and Jason Mulligan and was conducted by Dr. Pamela Elrod Huffman.

There will be upcoming performances of a similar nature in the fall. If you would like to be included in the Meadows Opera Theatre Patrons Email List or receive print materials in the mail regarding upcoming performances, contact Hank Hammett at




4-14-14 – Music theatre performance showcases talent that spans across Meadows majors

For a school without a musical theatre program, SMU’s Meadows School for the Arts has an abundance of musical theatre-trained voices.

The Music Theatre Student Showcase that took place in the Meadows Atrium on Saturday, April 12, 2014 showcased the talent of fifteen students from both the music and theatre departments.

Sophomore music major Dennis Wees produced and directed the show. Wees writes his own music and often jams in monthly S.P.I.T. (Speaking Poetry in Tune) performances in the Atrium.

Wees and freshman music major Georgia Sackler sang the duet “Fine” from Ordinary Days, a song that captures a day-in-the-life of a couple in New York City who struggle with petty hazards like rain on the way to her cousin’s house for a soiree. Even in just a three minute number from the show, the duo nailed the relationship between Jason and Clare – always dynamic and seemingly in shambles, but also sweet and sensitive.

The writing in Ordinary Days cannot be compared. Clare sings, “can’t you listen this once, red wine and fish, you’ll look like a dunce!” to which Jason responds, “Fine! I’ll bring the red, you bring the white. That way I’ll still get drunk, you’ll still be right.” “Fine.” “Fine.” “Fine.”

All songs were from new, post-millennium music theatre shows – that is, shows after the year 2000. Some of the selections included material from Spring Awakening, The Last Five Years, The Toxic Avenger, and Catch Me If You Can, to name a few.

In between acts, Wees introduced the show that each song hailed from, giving history about the show’s run on Broadway, the actors in the production, and a fun fact or interested tidbit about the show or a member of the cast in the original production.

Music majors Sarah Welch, Parker Holloway, Nathan Childress and Eric Dempsey accompanied the show on piano and guitar.

One particularly moving piece was Moretta Irchirl’s rendition of “Twelve Children” from Dessa Rose, which had several audience members in tears. With lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, Dessa Rose is based on the book by Sherley Anne Williams and tells the story of a young black woman and a young white woman and their journey to acceptance in 1847 in the ante-bellum South, as they tell their story to their grandchildren.

The full group performed “I Believe” from Spring Awakening together to open the show and “The Goodbye Song” by Joe Iconis to close the show.

Keep your eyes peeled for Wees, as he will undoubtedly go places. While the performance was a one-night-only gig, Wees plans to produce his own work in the fall, in a similar venue and setting. This will be a show to look forward to!




3-19-14 – Rescheduled concert proves a success for the MSO

The Meadows Symphony Orchestra played with vigor to a packed house during their concert in Caruth Auditorium last Wednesday.

Perhaps this was due to the fact that the concert was rescheduled from the ice storm on December 6-8, 2013 and the students were ecstatic to get to finally share their work with the community.

Under the music direction of Paul C. Phillips, the orchestra performed two scores, beginning with Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo (Hebrew for “Solomon”) and ending with Symphony No. 4 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Both scores were powerful and featured 119 of SMU’s talented music students.

Guest artist Michelle Merrill conducted both pieces. She earned her Masters of Music in conducting at Meadows School of the Arts at SMU and has gone on to conduct both nationally and internationally.

Bloch’s tumultuous piece, Schelomo featured cello soloist Christopher Adkins. Adkins joined the Dallas Symphony in 1987 and has performed with the Dallas String Quartet throughout the U.S. and Europe. He also serves as adjunct associate professor of music at the Meadows School of the Arts.

This piece explores the lamentations and trials of King Solomon. It was originally conceived as a musical setting of the Old Testament book of Eccelsiastes for voice and orchestra, but Bloch struggled with how to find a suitable language for the piece. He finally decided on a solo cello as the most suitable voice for his composition.

Adkins provided the experience and command that only a professional with his experience could provide.

The composer says, “It is the Jewish soul that interests me, the complex, glowing, agitated soul that I feel vibrating through Bible.”

His score captured this sentiment entirely. The punctuated, “vibrating,” pulses could not be ignored and the contrast between the strings and the drum brought anticipation and urgency to the piece. Adkins led the Meadows Symphony Orchestra to execute Bloch’s music with gusto.

The second piece, Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 4, Op.43, calls for one of the largest orchestras ever to appear on the Caruth stage.

The piece was originally composed in 1936 but it was not performed in public until 1961 due to threat of repercussion by Stalin, who thought Shostakovich’s music was a “creator of chaos instead of music.”

On the contrary, Shostakovich creates noble work in this symphony and manages to evoke the shock of many who woke up in the 1930s after the Russian Revolution to find a very bizarre and frightening world.

The most notable and interesting aspects of this piece were the sudden changes of emotion, style and tonality in Shostakovich’s work.

The first movement of the piece opens with the pounding of the “First-five year plan, of giant factories, and stentorian locomotives.” The music reflects this in the harsh sound and repetition.

There was a stark contrast from this first movement to the second movement, in which the sound of the bassoon was isolated, making it sound like a solo in the midst of the harsh chaotic sounds from before.

This contrast reflects Shostakovich’s role during this time – alone in his pursuit of music during the pre-war years.

Shostakovich’s piece is daring and brave, and to say that the Meadows Symphony Orchestra did this piece justice would be an understatement.


2-17-14 – Bernadette Peters wows Dallas crowds for three “enchanted evenings”

“There is nothing like a dame!” sang Bernadette Peters at the Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas on Friday, February 7, 2014.

And there is certainly nothing like this dame, who has had a successful stage and screen career since she made her professional stage debut at age nine.

Peters is one of Broadway’s most acclaimed triple threats and she has been nominated for seven Tony awards, winning two and nine Drama Desk awards, wining three. Four of the Broadway cast albums on which she has starred have won Grammy awards.

Peters performed in Dallas for three enchanting evenings, from February 6-9, singing some of her and her fans’ favorite songs. There was not an empty seat in the house and Peters’ audience was leaning on her every syllable, while she was singing and speaking.

Some of her most notable song choices were “Mister Snow” from Carousel, “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd, and “Children Will Listen” and “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods. Most impressive of all was Peters’ rendition of “Being Alive.”

Peters, now 65, has started her own arts organization with Mary Tyler Moore, called Broadway Barks that promotes animal adoption. She is also on the board of trustees for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

She closed her show, after receiving hearty applause and pleas for an encore, with her first original song that is featured on the CD included with the purchase of her Broadway Barks book.


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