Three things you don’t expect at a Dallas Symphony concert: a free s’mores bar in the lobby, electric guitars, and a concert made up entirely of music written in the past 30 years.
Such was the case, however, as the orchestra continued its Remix series — not at the Meyerson, not on the regular classical subscription series — but across the street at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Remix concerts feature general admission, one free drink per ticket-holder (plus the snack du jour, in this case, the aforementioned s’mores), no intermission for the shorter concerts, and a general sense of musical adventure.
Guest conductor Brett Mitchell raised the stakes in terms of repertoire, completely avoiding classical standards to present music of two living American composers and one work by the late Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, who died in 2013 at the age of 79.
While the Dallas Symphony has not had an exactly stellar record for new music in recent years, conductor Mitchell managed not only to introduce serious music of our time, but, with a careful and imaginative balance of composers and concepts, did so in an admirably palatable manner.
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The music of Kilar (who, along with a substantial body of concert music, created music for films including The Pianist, The Truman Show and Bram Stoker’s Dracula) was first up, in the form of the 9-minute tone poem "Orawa" for strings, from 1986. Inspired by the river and region of that name in Poland and Slovakia, Orawa initially relies on repetitive minimalism similar to that of Phil Glass, but with an arching lyricism building to a radiant climax — resulting, in this performance, in a very enthusiastic audience response.
The neo-romantic, pictorial mood of the evening continued with another tone poem, American composer Adam Schoenberg’s "Finding Rothko," inspired by paintings of Mark Rothko and organized into four linked movements titled “Orange,” “Yellow,” “Red” and “Wine.” Largely tonal (with a foray into heavy, percussive dissonance in “Red”), this work likewise appeals immensely and immediately.
Composer Bryce Dessner, who maintains a notable presence in the worlds of both rock (as guitarist for the band The National) and classical music, was present for two of his works, both of which fall clearly within the classical tradition. "Lachrimae" for string orchestra (portions of which turn up in the soundtrack of the movie The Revenant) encompasses influences ranging from English Renaissance composer John Dowland to Bela Bartok — the latter most evidently in the wonderfully Bartokian interplay of textures near the end of the work. Composer Dessner and fellow electric guitarist Travis Andrews joined the orchestra for "St. Carolyn by the Sea," a work which draws its inspiration and title from a phrase in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. In spite of the electric guitars, which were thoroughly integrated into the symphonic texture, there were more echoes of the baroque here than of rock, building to a bold climax that closed the evening with a surprising and delightful exclamation point.
Hear this Remix concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $19 and include a drink and s'mores. More at mydso.com.