Austin Symphony Orchestra: The Music Goes 'Round and 'Round

ASO's first commissioned work uses Dell Hall to envelop the audience in sound

The Austin Symphony Orchestra knew that it wanted a new orchestral work to commemorate its first season in Dell Hall. What it didn't know was how big a part Dell Hall would wind up playing in the work itself.

But as composer Christopher Theo-fanidis and his compositional collaborator Mark Wingate began to develop Field of Infinite Forms, the work commissioned by ASO for the opening of its 98th season and premiering this weekend, they chose to make the new Long Center concert hall an integral part of the score, utilizing the venue and its equipment to create a sonic environment that completely envelops the audience. According to ASO Music Director Peter Bay: "Mark and Chris came to visit Dell Hall early in the summer to study its acoustics and the state-of-the-art sound system. Chris' music is 'commented on' by electronic sound throughout the 15-minute, five-movement piece. The audience will notice the sound swirling around them, sometimes bouncing left to right, up and down, and from front to back." It will be a "surround-sound" experience that employs every speaker in Dell Hall, plus a few more that will be brought in specifically for the concert.

In case the use of "electronics" and "concert hall" in the same breath has you fearing the worst kind of atonal, arrhythmic, migraine-inducing, cover-your-ears cacophonies unleashed by modernism, allow Theofanidis to reassure you: That is not Wingate's way. "From first hearing, Mark's music struck me for its incredible ability to appeal to seemingly everyone, and, in a field marked by suspicion of the new, that is no mean feat," he says. "His music appeals to pop, concert, non-Western, and jazz sensibilities through its brilliant movement and sheer sonic power and interest. What he can do with a single sound can leave your head spinning." That's spinning, not splitting.

Even without hearing the work, it's abundantly clear that Theofanidis isn't taking it easy on ASO with this commission. In his program notes for the new work, he describes the third movement, "Hall of Mirrors," as containing "some very fast alternations between the orchestra and electronics which are quite virtuosic and difficult to realize." And the constant movement of the sound across the space is so tricky, adds Bay, that "in order to keep things coordinated between the orchestra and the electronics, I will have to wear a headset with a click-track."

The fact that Theofanidis is taking pains to craft a work that is so specific to its commissioning company and its performance home justifies ASO's faith in the Texas native. The decision to have Theofanidis compose an original piece for the Austin Symphony dates back to the first concert of ASO's 2005-06 season, when it performed his Rainbow Body, which had been the most performed orchestral work by a living composer among American orchestras the previous season. "The audience and orchestra response to the piece was so enthusiastic," Bay says, "that it was logical he should be asked to write us something new for our inaugural season at the Long Center."

Bay is more than pleased with the results. "Field of Infinite Forms is a fascinating work," he says, "and it's a thrill to be able to give it its maiden voyage here." And make no mistake, Bay believes there will be voyages to follow, not just in Dell Hall but in concert halls around the world: "Field of Infinite Forms taps into many different moods, sounds, and rhythms, and I believe it's such a good piece that it will be performed by many other orchestras in the future. I don't know of another piece like it!"


The Austin Symphony Orchestra performs the world premiere of Field of Infinite Forms Friday-Saturday, Sept. 19-20, 8pm, in Dell Hall at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 476-6064 or visit www.austinsymphony.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Symphony Orchestra, Peter Bay, Christopher Theofanidis, Mark Wingate, Fields of Infinite Forms, Long Center

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