After a hiatus of several weeks, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and maestro Jaap van Zweden are back at the Meyerson this weekend with a program that, while lacking diversity and innovation, is a sonorous showcase.
The concert is balanced but lengthy, with two 40-minute pieces anchoring each half of the evening. Often an orchestra will perform a couple shorter works during the first half of a concert, preparing the audience for a symphony like warm-ups for a long run. But during last night's performance, both pieces were so engagingly performed that 40 minutes flew by, feeling more like a quick jog in perfect fall weather than a marathon.
The night began with a cello concerto by 19th-century Czech composer Antonin Dvorák that featured soloist Narek Hakhnazaryan. Last year, 24-year old Hakhnazaryan left the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition with a gold medal and a lot of buzz. The competition is held once every four years like the Olympics, and winning the gold instantly places a performer among the world's most elite cellists.
Born in Armenia in 1988, Hakhnazaryan doesn't even have a Wikipedia page yet. He looks more like a geeky college kid than a superstar. Tall and lanky with big brown eyes, it's hard to imagine that he is capable of growing any facial hair beyond upper-lip peach fuzz.
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But on a stage filled with seasoned veterans and the bulky, manly, somewhat intimidating figure that is Jaap van Zweden, Hakhnazaryan held his own last night. There is an ease to his playing that makes difficult technical passages look simple, and if he is a bit flamboyant with the ends of phrases, flipping his bow into the air dramatically, it is forgivable. When a wide receiver effortlessly catches an impossible pass in the end zone, you excuse the theatrics of the dance.
The real focus of this weekend's program is the composer. Dvorák's music is accessible, with tuneful melodies and plenty of drama. Most of us are more familiar with his New World Symphony, but both works on this weekend's program -- his cello concerto and 7th symphony -- are easy to fall for over the course of the night. Dvorák is known for incorporating bohemian folk tunes into his compositions and there are plenty of moments throughout both pieces when such songs or dances are apparent.
The most obvious characteristic of this music is a sense of drama and an undercurrent of sorrow shared by both works. The concerto and symphony are in closely related minor keys -- B and D respectively -- and both were written during periods of personal sadness in the composer's life, one surrounding the illness of his sister-in-law, and the other, the symphony, composed in the wake of his mother's death. This is not new, innovative or avant-garde music, but it is music that is capable of stirring the soul.
What Jaap van Zweden does best with familiar masterpieces like these Dvorák works is show off his orchestra. Throughout the night, the woodwinds were gorgeous and horn, flute, and oboe in particular had some stunning moments during the concerto. The whole orchestra played the symphony with such perfect dynamic control, every gorgeous line Dvorák conceived was communicated.