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ARCHIVE: Debut of Kinetic (October 2015)

Originally published 10/18/2015


This afternoon was the inaugural concert of Kinetic, a conductorless string ensemble comprised of sixteen Shepherd School of Music students and founded by violinist Natalie Lin. They performed three works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a new work by Rice doctoral candidate Daniel Knaggs. The program began with the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, which proved the perfect vehicle for the setting and acoustics of First Evangelical Lutheran Church. Twelve members played in the chancel area while a quartet was situated in the choir loft at the opposite end. The combined forces sounded like a larger group and the sonic effect was glorious. Most, if not all of the players participated in the leading. All were intent on maintaining the ensemble. The range of dynamics and colors were enhanced by excellent intonation and beautiful sound. There was a sense of chamber music to the playing brought on by the absence of a conductor. The second piece was in fact a chamber music work, the Phantasy Quintet by Vaughan Williams. Here, individual leadership roles were required. The standard of performance was equal to the larger ensemble, with several fine solos throughout.


“Two Columns at Sea” by Daniel Knaggs began the second half. It is inspired by a vivid dream of Don Bosco, a mid-nineteenth century Italian priest who was renowned for his prophetic dreams. The musical piece evokes the spirit and imagery of the dream by means of fresh but not avant garde techniques. As such, it fit quite well into Kinetic’s Fantasia program, where Vaughan Williams’ pieces looked back rather than forward. It is very appropriate that talented young musicians should include a new work by a talented young composer. It is easy to forget that every piece, even the most familiar, had a first performance. New music is what keeps the art form alive.


The program concluded with the Concerto Grosso, written by Vaughan Williams for a huge string ensemble of varying capabilities. The easy open-string parts were necessarily omitted, but hardly missed. They were intended to allow beginner students to participate in a 400-strong festival concert and feel the thrill of performing. Kinetic evoked a different feel for the players, and by extension the audience. While there are fantastic conductors, to be sure, (both Rice and the Houston Symphony are so blessed), there is much to be said about the personal gratification and pride that comes from taking ownership of a musical performance. That is the norm with chamber music, but rarely the case with orchestras, where it can and does result in burn-out, physical problems, or worse. For the most part, the happiest and best musicians have means to make their own decisions and discuss their own ideas. Even where disagreements emerge (and they will!), the process of achieving consensus is fulfilling and wonderful. When “Do as I say” becomes “Let’s try it,” everyone wins. Most importantly, so does the music. May Kinetic have all the support it deserves. Congratulations to Natalie Lin and her colleagues for an auspicious beginning.

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