There is a long history of symphony orchestras taking their music outside in the summers, performing in surprising places during a season in which we all seem to seek events that are more approachable and less formal than a night at the symphony. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, too, has a history of taking its music outside the concert hall to perform outdoors for its annual Memorial Day concert or at other venues around the city. Four years ago, the DSO formalized its commitment to community and accessibility in the form of the Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, which returns this year from May 6-28.
Although the DSO and the city of Dallas have high hopes the festival will one day enter the rarefied ranks of the world’s best classical music festivals, it will take years for Soluna to gain that kind of international approval. That’s not to say Soluna has gone unnoticed outside Texas or even the United States; high-profile collaborations and commissions with Pharrell Williams, Jonah Bokaer and Henri Scars Struck, among others, ensure the international art world's attention.
Even so, these things take time, something the smart people behind Soluna know, and — taking a cue from both experience and the research that supports it — they’ve transformed Soluna into a festival unlike any other, a prestigious event that features multidisciplinary collaborative arts experiences from both local and internationally renowned artists and musicians while fostering partnerships with local arts institutions and organizations and hoping to appeal to the DSO’s most important audience: the people of Dallas.
This May, the DSO will partner with the Dallas Art Fair, NorthPark Center, UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, the Dallas Museum of Art, Mariachi Rosas Divinas, the Alamo Drafthouse, the Cedars Union, the Nasher Sculpture Center and other collaborators to present concerts, art installations, performances and more across the city. Many of the events are free.
Given its focus on the local and despite its billing as an international festival, Soluna has remained surprisingly approachable, in terms of both location and programming. Passport to the Park, an all-day event produced in partnership with Klyde Warren Park, returns May 27 with a schedule of musical performances from Booker T. Washington’s gospel choir, the University of North Texas Latin Jazz Lab and more.
In partnership with the Cedars Union, Soluna has also commissioned a performance by Dallas artist Jennifer Wester, who will transform a downtown Dallas parking lot into a skating rink May 19, when she will perform to a score created from sounds of ice.
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A large number of Soluna events take place outside of the concert hall this year. Audiences can encounter Sebastien Léon’s “The Diffracted Symphony,” a soundscape and sculpture, at NorthPark Center throughout the festival, or catch DJ Kid Koala outside May 13 at the Annette Strauss Square performing “Vinyl Vaudeville,” a concert complete with singing robots and oversized penguins.
On May 16, filmmaker and artist Antoine Wagner, Richard Wagner’s great-great grandson, will be on hand at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars for a screening of Wagner: A Genius in Exile, which focuses on the composer’s time in Switzerland. Dallas-based artists Jeff Gibbons and Gregory Rupee will bring the Nasher Sculpture Center garden to life in their piece “Grubnik + Suzanne” on May 17.
The festival also features traditional classical performances, overshadowed by the imminent departure of music director Jaap van Zweden, who will conduct his final concerts with the DSO during Soluna's last week. On May 18 and 20, van Zweden conducts Richard Wagner’s "Die Walkure" in concert, and from May 24-26, his final performances with the DSO will include the world premiere of a DSO-commissioned violin concerto by American composer Jonathan Leshnoff.
These events really only scratch the surface of what’s in store for Soluna audiences this year, which promises more collaboration and more opportunity to experience the meeting of sound and visual art than ever before.