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Meadows Chamber Orchestra Performs with Haitian-American Composer Daniel Bernard Roumain

Performance at Winspear Opera House in February a Unique Experience

by Katrina Leshan (B.M. Guitar '13)

On Wednesday, February 24, a lime green clock sat on a music stand in Caruth Auditorium, stage left. To its right stood Chris David Westover, a spritely second-year graduate student conducting the Meadows Chamber Orchestra rehearsal of Darwin’s Meditation for the People of Lincoln, a work by Haitian-American composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR). Further to the right of Caruth stage stood DBR himself, holding a Starbucks drink in his hand, watching the violin section of the chamber orchestra. He waved his hands and everyone stopped.

“Everything needs to move in slow motion here,” DBR said. “Make a beautiful sound, like the ocean. We’re using two notes to make the sound of waves. This is as minimal as it gets; you have to really listen to each other.” He nodded at Westover and the orchestra started again.

* * *

For the next two hours the rehearsal moved on in this fashion. DBR nodded and encouraged the orchestra, inserted musical expressions when necessary, and played along during his designated parts. He wanted to clearly communicate the purpose behind his piece, and made sure that every crescendo and accent was exactly where it should be.

“Chris and these musicians take the piece to a special place,” DBR commented during a break. “It sounds better here than it does when I imagine it. Everyone performing is youthful, unaffected by time. They bring a new energy to the piece.”

And that energy was something the performers needed. The next day, Thursday, February 25, the Meadows chamber orchestra met with DBR and his entourage at the new Winspear Opera House in downtown Dallas’s acclaimed Performing Arts Center and rehearsed relentlessly from 3:00 until 6:00 p.m. By the time audience members arrived for the performance at 8:00 p.m., a total of nine hours had been spent in rehearsal, going over the smallest details, making sure that everything was in its place. It was time to perform.

People sat down in the Winspear to witness a collaborative event involving TITAS, the non-profit cultural and educational institution which presented the event as part of its music series, American Red Cross Haiti Relief, and DBR. Darwin’s Meditation for the People of Lincoln uses both English and Creole words to describe the pain and suffering of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, two large historical figures who were born on the same day and strove to achieve great things during their lifetimes. The work also explores the shared history between the United States and Haiti, especially during the times of the American and Haitian revolutions. A screen displayed images and words behind the orchestra as they performed. “The video, by Yuki Nakajima, and the lighting are an integral part of this piece,” DBR explained. “They inform the music, so people are forced to look while they listen. The images are compelling. There is no coordination between the words you see and the words you hear, so the audience is really forced to figure out which they want to pay attention to.”

The Meadows Chamber Orchestra gave a crowd-pleasing performance. Featured soloist Edgar Jaime blasted notes across the audience during “The Tuscaloosa Meditations.” After a 90-minute emotional musical experience, the Meadows Chamber Orchestra received a standing ovation. The concert received positive reviews in The Dallas Morning News and DBR said he hopes to work with the chamber orchestra again.

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