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Copyright 1997 Houston Chronicle
Reprinted with permission

Golden Horn adds a dash of humor to serious music

Copyright 1997 Houston Chronicle

When a horn player lies dying on the floor like some stabbed Verdian opera character, you realize you're not at an ordinary classical music recital.

Thomas Bacon, a former Houston Symphony principal, has long had a different musical point of view. Music can be serious and must be taken seriously. It doesn't have to be deadly.

Bacon and fellow horn player James Graber, performing as the Golden Horn, brought their irreverently serious ideas to Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church on Monday for a refreshingly unpretentious recital.

Two things made the duo's program work. The first was its excellent standards, expressed in polished tone, emotional verve, and sound musical ideas and instincts.

The second was the music of Austin composer Mark Schultz: Voices From Spoon River and The Beast Tales (given its world premiere in the Golden Horn's concerts Sunday and Monday at Salem Lutheran).

The two works have a similar format: quirky texts, which the horn players declaimed amid Schultz's deft and richly sonorous settings.

The Beast Tales came from Aesop's Fables, the 2,600-year-old source of so many of our homiletic clichés: "crying over spilled milk," "necessity is the mother of invention," and so forth.

Schultz chose nine of Aesop's tales, such as the milkmaid who counted her chickens before they were hatched. Bacon and Graber retold the stories with panache -- Bacon as almost over-the-top melodrama, Graber with more thoughtfulness.

Voices From Spoon River came from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, a poetic tale about a stonecutter who moves to a small town and learns about the true lives of people whose tombstones he carves.

There was punch, poignancy and, as Bacon has said, a touch of Peyton Place in the stories Schultz has astutely set. The Golden Horn performed with flair -- including Graber's scene on the floor, harrumphing out the last gasps of life. The piece was an excellent example of how to reach out to an audience.

Other works on the program were mostly light: settings of American hymn tunes and folk tunes, a horn version of a Puccini aria (Che gelida manina from La Bohème) and a rolling, virtually Straussian opener, Im tiefsten Walde by German composer Heinrich Kaspar Schmid (1874-1953).

The substantial work was the Horn Sonata by Alec Wilder (1907-1980), an American long lost in the gap between classical and popular music because he wrote persuasively in both styles.

With Patti Wolf, pianist for the evening, Bacon played this four-movement work elegantly. In the slow movement, he achieved an especially impressive soft tone that mimicked the haunting beauty of a flugelhorn.

Charles Ward can receive electronic mail via the Internet. Address comments to

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