Rawlings' Verbal Flubbing Aside, DSO Proved Its Mettle Last Night

Last night the Dallas Symphony Orchestra presented a showcase performance to a packed house at the Meyerson Symphony Center. The room was bursting with out-of-towners, the overflow due mainly to the League of American Orchestras' annual conference, which is currently going on in Dallas. Maestro van Zweden and the DSO gave attendees (mainly orchestral managerial staff and other industry types from across the nation) an evening of music to showcase their strengths, proving ours is an orchestra worthy of some serious buzz.

As the crowd settled in, Mayor Mike Rawlings took the stage to formally welcome guests to our city, emphasizing the dynamic relationship our orchestra has with its award-winning conductor and world-class hall. Hopefully, those in the audience who live in Dallas felt proud of what our city was about to present to a national audience despite the Mayor's cringe-inducing bumbled pronunciation of the word "Maestro" (his first attempt - "MASStroh" - felt eerily reminiscent of a Bushism). Fortunately, the orchestra quickly dispelled any negative stereotypes by cranking out a highly refined and artful program.

The evening began and ended with familiar selections from the world of romantic opera. Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde opened the concert and Maestro van Zweden pushed and pulled its tempo in a manner that heightened the emotional intensity of the piece without over-sentimentalizing it. Strauss' Suite from Der Rosenkavalier wrapped up the concert with appealing energy and enthusiasm. During Strauss' most energetic waltz moments, van Zweden leapt and danced on the podium, drawing a joy from the orchestra that was contagious.

Sandwiched between Wagner and Strauss were two contemporary American pieces that showcased the DSO's ability to maneuver modern music with technical prowess and artistry. Violinist Jennifer Koh joined the orchestra for John Adams' Violin Concert (1993). This piece is one of Adams' strongest, and Koh's performance was intense. She ripped through technically challenging passages and the orchestra (especially the percussion section) also displayed moments of virtuosity. The last movement of this piece brought to mind the finale of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, with the orchestra providing percussive rhythmic energy and Koh playing herself into a beautiful and terrifying frenzy.

Kansas-born Cornell professor (and Baylor graduate) Steven Stucky's Rhapsodies (2008) provided the DSO with the perfect vehicle to show off both musicians and and also proved why a great hall is important. (Luckily, we have one.) The dynamics of this piece range from intimate to bombastic and the juxtaposition of those extremes created some stunning sounds in the Meyerson. At only ten minutes, Stucky's Rhapsodies left me wanting more.

All of the pieces on the program last night showed off the sounds this orchestra is capable of creating, specifically in the Meyerson. Whether it was the basses performing at an impossibly quiet pianissimo, punches of dissonance and unusual timbres during the Adams piece, or the rapturous sweeping sounds of the strings during Stucky and Strauss, the DSO gave a local and national audience the gift of music performed by a well-trained, artistically sensitive orchestra in a beautiful space.

Tonight, the League of American Orchestra conference attendees will have another opportunity to hear music in the Meyerson. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is also presenting a program that features contemporary American composers (Jennifer Higdon and Kevin Puts). The orchestra will by joined by Southern Methodist University's Artist-in-Residence, Chee-Yun on the violin. The program concludes with Dvorák's 7th symphony. You can purchase tickets on the FWSO's website.

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