My wife Lisa and I enjoyed the recent Shreveport Symphony concert featuring violin virtuoso William Hagen. Inspired by the social media posts of my childhood friend David Hurst who lives in New York and attends an incredible array of theater productions and music recitals, we took a preconcert selfie holding up our theater program. I wanted to emulate David’s Facebook scroll with a similar style photo. I wanted to show we too enjoy high culture down south.
Fifty years ago, David braved a violin performance for his fifth-grade classmates in music class. Introductory remarks were interrupted by a bellicose audience member yelling, “Start playing Hurst! We didn’t bring these tomatoes for nothing!” I laughed at the heckler while David soldiered on, valiantly trying to bring culture to we churlish Philistines of Fairview Elementary in Columbia, Missouri.
Down south in 2023, Hagen met with a much more appreciative audience. This amazing talent is only 29 years and has been performing on prominent stages for two decades. My cultural contribution when I was the age of Hagen’s debut with the Utah Symphony? Laughing at a young fellow brave enough to bring his violin to school.
The Shreveport Symphony performs regular concerts featuring incredible guest soloists at the RiverView theater. Show up an hour early and you’re treated to an impassioned talk from conductor Michael Butterman (even if you’ve never attended a local symphony concert, you know him as the pianist on those Willis Knighton TV ads) offering interesting historical background on the composers of the evening and an interview with the guest artist. During his conversation with the conductor, Hagen revealed his violin of recent years is a 1732 Stradivarius. Guitar and banjo players covet instrument decades old. Classical masters shop centuries back.
Like Hagen, I brought an instrument older than me to the concert, my Manon A-6841 field binoculars. Lisa was mortified and complained she did not want us to look like tourists. As residents of one parish traveling to another for a unique cultural experience, I suppose we were Shreveport tourists. And I wanted to view the French horn player seated in the back closeup.
Colin McRae is a mild-mannered pharmacist at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center by day. When the sun sets, Colin exercises his enthusiastic jowls and plays horn in the Shreveport Symphony. I don’t associate jowls, enthusiastic or otherwise, with trim Colin but I liked the phrase when Maestro Butterman shared it describing the brass section parts during his introduction to Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8.
Dvořák was the only composer of the evening I recognized, perhaps from Music Appreciation in college. I enjoyed the class more than my brother, another Fairview alum, who shook his menacing fist and grumbled, “Hummmph, I got your Vivaldi.” I don’t know what that meant but he was clearly displeased with the curriculum. I too lamented the syllabus did not include my favorite composers Lennon and McCartney.
The Beatles met the obvious course prerequisite of being incredibly famous white European male composers. Yet they were not from a previous century and thus were judged unworthy to study. Plus, they couldn’t read music. John Lennon confessed to not knowing what an Aeolian cadence was when a reviewer complimented its appearance in an early Beatle song. Lennon said an Aeolian cadence sounded like an exotic bird.
I lack the auditory sophistication to know whether I heard any Aeolian cadences in Shreveport, either from the symphony performance itself or chirping from the trees during our pleasant Riverview Park walk to the theater.
Besides Dvořák, the evening presented works from composers George Butterworth and Max Bruch. British soldier Butterworth died young in World War I just three years after he wrote The Banks of Green Willow. My favorite was the German violinist Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. The Finale exchange between Hagen’s solo violin and the brass section was delightful. The program titles that last movement Allegro guerriero. This too has the sound of an aviary species.
Colin gave me tickets to the November symphony concert featuring Cuban piano marvel and composer Aldo López-Gavilán. Lisa and I were hooked. Our seats offered an obstructed view of the musician’s hands but it sounded like he had more than two. We caught his performance again the next day at Centenary College. The Saturday evening Shreveport Symphony concerts are often accompanied by a free recital from the featured soloist the following Sunday afternoon. This is an incredible value folks.
Not wanting to be a schnorrer of the symphony, I ponied up for season tickets. Rear balcony center although the Bob Uecker section still sounds great and affords a view of the entire orchestra. You can bring your binoculars which are basically opera glasses writ large.
I wanted Colin to share his comp tickets with other pharmacy workers. Thus far our roles as musical ambassadors have not shown promise. One pharmacist hesitated because of cold weather. This seemed a spurious dodge as Shreveport winters rarely make your teeth chatter and the RiverView Theater is an indoor venue. Puzzled by prospective audience apathy, I thought a newspaper article might help spread the word.
You need not regard the months between the end of one football season and the start of another as a cultural abyss prompting hibernation from the arts. Please go see and hear the Shreveport Symphony. On March 25, you can enjoy a Celebration of Nat King Cole. On May 6, the season wraps with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
A friend residing in Georgia once told me I had it all wrong in these columns. A Missouri migrant to the south like me, he insisted it was not a contrast between north and south but rather between cities urban and towns rural. Either way northern Louisiana is no mere cultural backwater. Shreveport has more going on than casino gambling.
My continued process of southern assimilation has changed me from joining in ridicule of the south to becoming defensive about it. As I age and appreciate artistic expression, I have transitioned from avoiding classical music to listening raptly at its greatest practitioners. Take advantage of your opportunity to do likewise.