This week the Dallas Symphony Orchestra brings to life its newest project. The Soluna Festival packs music, art, dance and storytelling into a three-week extravaganza. There's a lot to chose from, and the website is beautiful but unfriendly, so we asked our classical music writer, Jonathan Patrick to sink his well-cut teeth into the billing and tell us what he's looking forward to in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I've selected a few additional art events to compile this guide to the Soluna festival. We'll be reporting back along the way to let you know what we were right about and what missed the mark.
Mahler 3 There are big symphonies and there are BIG symphonies. Standing at roughly 90 minutes and requiring over 100 musicians and two choruses, Mahler's Third Symphony is one of, if not the, largest symphony in the repertoire. Like most of the composer's large-scale works, Mahler 3 is intense, sweeping and bittersweet, fluctuating between heavenly light and a deep-seated fatalism about suffering and death. Painting idyllic nature scenes -- from season to season, night through day -- the symphony, despite its heavy themes (informed by Mahler's interest in both German folk poetry and settings from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra), is one of Mahler's most unreserved and, in some ways, optimistic works. Whether seen as a way of actualizing the sublimity of a Nirvanic afterlife, or as a celebration of death's release from material existence, Mahler 3 manages to deal in poignancy without succumbing to heavy-handedness. Catch the DSO's Mahler 3 at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday (May 21-23) at The Meyerson. Tickets start at $19.- Jonathan Patrick
Ali Helnwein & Alex Prager One of the big scores of the Soluna Festival was a series of music and video commissions or premieres. It's not a particularly novel approach, but pairing video art with symphonies thrusts the DSO into the 21st century, a lofty goal with which Soluna in its entirety is meant to assist. It seems one of the festival's riskier moves is to construct an opening night without blockbusters. Although events technically kicked off Monday, the production at the City Performance Hall at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday is officially the opening night. There will be screenings of three videos by internationally acclaimed video artist, Alex Prager alongside original music by Austrian composer Ali Helnwein. Tickets are $49. - Lauren Smart
Alex Prager Exhibition For a cross-disciplinary arts festival in a visual art/theater heavy town there aren't a ton of visual art events, and there are effectively no theater events. That being said, the few visual art events on the calendar are knockouts. In conjuction with the premiere of her video work on opening night, the Goss Michael Foundation gives a solo exhibition to Alex Prager, who continues her longtime interest in the "psychological experiences of crowds." See it in opening reception from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Goss Michael Foundation (1405 Turtle Creek Blvd.). Free admission. There will also be an artist talk at 11:30 a.m. Friday, tickets are $15 and include lunch from Green House Market. More at g-mf.org. - Lauren Smart
ReMix: Hollywood Exile Themed around European composers who found homes in Hollywood, there's a lot to look forward to in this event, especially given that the program's opening compositions rival the headlining performances. Karina Canellakis conducts the world premiere of acclaimed visual artist Pipilotti Rist's video projection accompaniment to Miklos Rozsa's Adante for String Orchestra (a DSO commission). And DSO Artist-in-Residence Conrad Tao takes on Rozsa's Spellbound Concerto. But two other works -- one by Schoenberg, the other Stravinsky -- deserve attention. First, Stravinsky's Scherzo à la russe, resulting from an unused score for an abandoned film project, is a warm, jazzy example of the composer's American commercial music. The second, Schoenberg's Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, is a symphonic poem to an unrealized film script, expectedly fractured and fevered, but unexpected on account of the composer's stern resistance to commercial endeavors, even if such an approach here is only hinted at. Performances happen 7:30 pm Friday and Saturday (May 8-9) at The Dallas City Performance Hall. Tickets are $19. - Jonathan Patrick
Francisco Moreno's WCD Project Dallas-based visual artist Francisco Moreno must've pulled the lucky toothpick, as he provides only local art component. His project is part large-scale painting and part automotive performance. Interested in themes of American imagery, he has re-conceived the Emanuel Leutze painting, "Washington Crossing the Delaware," in abstract language, employing the World War II tactic of painting boats in dazzle camouflage. He's then installed a monstrous engine inside a 1975 Datsun Z, and his brother will perform doughnuts in the car in front of his painting. It is a commentary on growing up Mexican-American, but it sounds like it's going to be really freaking cool. See it in studio hours from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, or in performance May 23 in the green warehouse in Trinity Groves (2900 Bataan St.). Admission is free. - Lauren Smart
Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Schoenberg's most famous chamber work is also amongst his best. Although Schoenberg's name is all but synonymous with "atonality," with Verklarte Nacht the composer showed that there was plenty of controversy left in tonal language. (At its premiere, one critic famously described the piece as "the sort of six-legged calf one might see in a side-show;" Schoenberg responded by suggesting it was more like a"12-legged calf."). Based on a Richard Dehmel poem wherein a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant by another man, Verklarte Nacht derives not only its name but its structure from the poem, with each of its five sections corresponding to stanzas in Dehmel's original. Although late-Romantic in style, and somehow simultaneously Wagnerian, Brahmsian and Straussian, Verklarte Nacht still sounds firmly modern. Come hear the Amernet String Quartet, with musicians from the DSO, bring this music to life in a program that includes Ginastera's String Quartet No. 3 and Golijov's Last Round; The lone performance is at 7:30 pm Friday, May 15, at Cliff Temple Baptist Church. Tickets at mydso.com. - Jonathan Patrick
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Music and The Brain In one of the more fascinating events of the Soluna Festival, The Perot Museum is hosting a panel lecture on the effects and connectedness of cognition, creativity and music. Presented by UT Southwestern Medical Center, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and The Perot Museum, the event's topics include "Hidden Mental Connections Between Music and Language," "Singing in the Brain: The Amazing Human Voice Instrument," and "The Power of Song in Aphasia and Autism" among others. With a panel composed of international experts -- doctors representing Harvard, Tufts, UTSW, and University of Western Ontario -- this promises to be as challenging as it is informative. Music and The Brain begins at 8:30am on Saturday, May 16. Tickets and a detailed lecture schedule can be found at mydso.com.- Jonathan Patrick
Kevin Beasley: Talk and Performance The Dallas Museum of Art's Hoffman Family senior curator of contemporary art, Gavin Delahunty, will lead a conversation with internationally acclaimed sound and installation artist Kevin Beasley. Even better, on the following evening in the DMA's atrium, Beasley will present his newly commissioned performance installation: "Black Rocker." An investigation and exploration of the physicality of sound and the cultural/racial notion of "blackness" in America, this work is set to deliver a quality of conceptual and political art the likes of which our city rarely sees. The Artist Talk takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 17, at the DMA, with the performance occurring in conjunction with 'Late Nights at the DMA' the following Friday between 6pm and midnight. Tickets are just $5. - Jonathan Patrick
Nasher Soundings: Pierrot Lunaire "Only a series of points, dots, dashes or phrases that sob and scream, despair, explode, exalt and blaspheme," is how it was described upon its premier. To some it's a work of blinding, sneering genius, to others a disturbing nightmare of form -- or rather, formlessness. Regardless of which flag you fly, there's no denying that Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire ripped a schism through history, irrevocably changing music forever.
Abandoning tonality in toto, and slithering somewhere between musical composition and avant garde theatre, Pierrot Lunaire is a melodrama comprised of 21 surreal poems (German translations of Albert Giraud's "Pierrot Lunaire" cycle) delivered with an unusual vocal technique positioned halfway between singing and speaking -- what Schoenberg called Sprechstimme (or, "speech song"). Backed by instrumental accompaniment, the marriage of the vocalizations and the music make for a radical, hitherto unaccountable masterpiece. Join artistic director Seth Knopp at the Nasher as Soundings celebrates a musical achievement wherein the impossible -- the unthinkable! -- became possible, and there was truly something new under the sun. Witness Pierrot Lunaire at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday ,May 20. Tickets are $25 for non-Nasher-members, $20 for members and $10 for students and educators.- Jonathan Patrick