Opening night ovation
Thunder crashed and lightning crackled outside, but a freak Friday night thunderstorm couldn’t dampen spirits at the Fort Worth Symphony Opening Night Concert and Celebration on September 8.
First a performance by the FWSO and 19-year-old pianist Yunchan Lim, under the direction of Robert Spano, lit up the audience inside Bass Hall. It was Lim’s highly anticipated return to the stage where he became the youngest-ever winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2022 (and has since become a piano rock star).
After their performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Spano bear-hugged Lim, the audience rose for several curtain calls, a patron in the front row presented Lim flowers, and he returned the adoration with a solo encore.
Spano and the orchestra book-ended Lim’s performance with two beloved works by Brahms, his Academic Festival Overture and Symphony No. 1 in C minor. It was an electrifying start to the 2023-24 season, which marks Spano’s second as FWSO music director.
Following the concert, FWSO's most devoted supporters braved gusty winds of a coming storm to walk to City Club for a dinner party. Hosted by chairman Mercedes T. Bass and the FWSO board of directors, the Opening Night Celebration honored Alann B. Sampson for decades of service to the orchestra, the Cliburn, and the greater Fort Worth arts and cultural community.
While a pianist serenaded, patrons filed in and grabbed glasses of wine and champagne or visited the bar for a mixed drink or shaken martini. A towering violin-shaped ice sculpture provided both the focal point of the elegant room and a popular photo opp.
The opening-night party is as much a celebration of the FWSO musicians as it is of those who support the music-making. Relaxed and fresh from the stage, musicians including concertmaster Michael Shih, principal bassoon Joshua Elmore, assistant principal trumpet Cody McClarty, violinist Camilla Wojciechowska, violinist Albert Yamamoto (and many more) mingled with CEO Keith Cerny and wife Jennifer and other symphony leaders.
Guests dined on a buffet supper of sliced beef tenderloin, lamb chops, cold salmon, an assortment of finger sandwiches, salad, and charcuterie; a mashed potato bar; and a tower of mini desserts.
FWSO principal pianist Shields-Collins “Buddy" Bray introduced Sampson as recipient of the prestigious FWSO Medal of Excellence. Sampson joined the FWSO Board of Directors in 1991 and has been involved with the Cliburn since its inception.
“Alann has been a proselytizer for music, an evangelist for music in the city of Fort Worth, and this has been her story her whole life,” he said, describing how she passed out programs at the first Cliburn competition in 1962.
In her heartfelt remarks, Sampson called it a “privilege of a lifetime” to share the celebratory evening with Lim and the FWSO leadership and musicians. “Please know it is I who celebrates you,” she said.
She acknowledged family members in attendance - daughter Anne and husband Brett Leonard and granddaughter Madeleine Leonard, son Edward Sampson and wife Jennifer - and friends with whom she has shared many decades of service and support.
“To the musicians," she added poetically, “I’m just the backstage girl, and my instrument is my heart … Indeed the musicians, with Maestro, you are the strings to the stars, you are the winds for the celestial orbs, and with unceasing beat, you give awareness to the presence of the eternal. You bring harmony to the marking of time in this world through times of sorrow, praise, and joy, we can’t live without music.”
She ended, appropriately, with "a wink to Van Cliburn," her dear departed friend, who no doubt was celebrating in the presence of the eternal.
Among those offering Sampson warm applause were friends and fellow FWSO patrons Carla Thompson, Marcia French, Frasher Pergande, John Broude, Connie Beck, Priscilla Martin, Charles White, Richard Moncrief, Marsland Moncrief, Gail Rawl, Capera Ryan, Ken Blasingame, J. Brooks, Lee Hallman, Yann Coatanlem, and Tommy Smith.