After a long week of work for our communications team at UT Southwestern Medical Center, late Friday afternoon gave a group of us a chance to have some fun together to usher in a three-day weekend. And then I got to join a couple of my friends/former colleagues from The Dallas Morning News for even more fun into the evening.
It started with a happy hour at Community Beer Co., a brewery next door to our offices at Pegasus Plaza off Stemmons Freeway across from UTSW’s South and West campuses in the Medical District. The special occasion was a surprise 60th birthday celebration for Russell Rian, our director of public relations and one of my bosses (and a long-ago DMN colleague). His birthday is Saturday, but we decided to organize the gathering for him after work Friday.
Our colleague Steve Kaskovich (my supervisor and former Fort Worth Star-Telegram colleague) just told Russell that he and I were going to buy him a birthday beer. When we walked into Community, about 15 friends/colleagues and former co-workers were already there to pull off the surprise. He was thrilled and moved by the whole thing, and between the over-the-hill gag gifts, great conversation and Russell getting to see a few old colleagues, everyone had a fantastic time.
Another happy hour highlight: Seeing a couple of guys I haven’t seen in quite a while. One was Lin Lofley, a friend who used to be a copy editor at the DMN and left in 2004, then joined the communications team at UTSW in 2005. The other guy was Patrick Wascovich, who was a reporter at the DMN in the early 2000s, but I didn’t have any contact with him then. He went on to work with Russell, Lin and others at UTSW for years, then retired a few years ago and is back with us as a freelance writer.
But I used to know Patrick, although not well, waaay back in the 1980s when we were sports writers in West Texas — he at the San Angelo Standard-Times and I in my first job at The Odessa American. He left San Angelo in 1986 and I left for Fort Worth in ’87.
Lin, who retired from UTSW in 2018, had told me a few years back that he had a cool old Houston Rockets jacket that he had no more use for and would like to give me. I grew up in the Houston area loving the Rockets (although not as much as my Astros, of course) and remained a fan well into adulthood. That peaked when they won NBA titles in 1994 and ’95 as Houston became known as “Clutch City,” but I haven’t really been a big fan or even followed the NBA closely for a while.
I was touched and said that would be awesome, but Lin and I haven’t seen each other in years. Soon after Russell, Steve and I arrived at the happy hour and I greeted Lin, he told me he’d brought the jacket with him! Later, I looked up and there he was holding that great-looking red-and-yellow Starter-brand Rockets pullover. I’m honored he would choose me to gift such a valued possession to. Thank you so much, Lin! 😁
When I left the happy hour, I headed for the Arts District, where I met DMN copy editor Erik Schutz and DMN Spanish-language publication Al Dia editor Alfredo Carbajal, two friends who have joined me in attending Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts at the Meyerson Symphony Center. I’d noticed a few weeks ago that there are several concerts this spring with seats as cheap as $20, and if you’re a symphony lover, you can’t find a better bargain — especially to enjoy a world-class orchestra like the DSO.
On the program Friday night were Grieg’s Piano Concerto, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and a beautiful short piece by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor called “Solemn Prelude” that I wasn’t familiar with. Reading the program notes, though, I learned it has an incredible backstory.
Composed in 1899, the piece was making its Dallas debut after having been revived last year at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, England, where Coleridge-Taylor conducted its first performance Sept. 13, 1899. Sadly, Coleridge-Taylor, born out of wedlock to a white English woman and a Black medical student from Sierra Leone, died in 1912 at age 37 from pneumonia.
I really came for the Edvard Grieg concerto (written by the Norwegian composer in 1868), which I had seen the amazing Andre Watts perform with the DSO in 2012 with my wife Kay’s mother, Caryl. Friday night’s pianist was Paul Lewis, an Englishman who has performed all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas on tour in the U.S. and Europe. I thought he did a masterful job on the Grieg — but I’m always there for the enjoyment, not to be a critic, so I think all soloists are fabulous.
I had only heard the Jean Sibelius No. 2 (completed by the Finnish composer in 1902) a couple of times. But after listening to the DSO’s rendition and getting a close-up view from our cheap Orchestra Floor seats of the technical difficulty the strings — especially the cellos — face throughout this challenging and unusual symphony, I came away extremely impressed. I’m going to listen to other versions on YouTube to get to know it better, because I find it very … complex. But I like it!
You’ve probably heard me say this before, but if you’ve never seen the DSO and you like classical music even just a little, you really should take in a concert at the Meyerson (which has superb acoustics) between September and May — especially when you can get a seat for 20 bucks!
Before the current season ends, some of the scheduled concerts feature violinist Pinchas Zukerman, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and a concert with both Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. I hope to make it to a couple of those with some of my friends (Kay isn’t a classical music fan, but maybe she and I can go to one too!).
There’s also a great orchestra in Fort Worth that performs at the majestic Bass Hall, where a seat can be had for a reasonable price, too. The FWSO isn’t quite on the same level as the DSO … but it’s very, very good.
Happening symphony-ing! ☺️ 🎻🎼