Dallas — Richard McKay is a young conductor, fresh out of the Peabody Conservatory, who took the initiative to start a new performing arts organization in Dallas: The Dallas Chamber Symphony. It has taken the group two seasons to find its groove and carve out a niche, but this they are doing with success.
This weekend at Dallas City Performance Hall, the DCS collaborates with the Bruce Wood Dance Project, accompanying the late Wood’s work Piazzolla en Prisa. On Tuesday, the third DCS season opens with guest pianist Alex McDonald (also at City Performance Hall). And in October, the group opens the Dallas Video Festival by accompanying a new score to Hitchcock’s recently released early film The Lodger.
“We are presenting alternative and less heard repertoire,” McKay says, outlining his vision for the group. “I believe you are going to have a tough road ahead if you just present chamber rep. You need to put in new works like John Adams’ Chamber Symphony. These concerts are more casual. City Performance Hall is perfect for this approach and is just the right size. I try to keep it fun.”
One niche that McKay has carved out is commissioning new scores for silent films. These performances are all world premieres and are marvelous. Keep your eye out for them—in addition to the Hitchcock event, the 1014-2014-‘15 season brings a new score to Harold Lloyd’s Bumping Into Broadway. Another is his upcoming collaboration with dance organizations.
Ballet struggles to perform with live music. One local company, the Avant Chamber Ballet, solves this problem by doing new dances with small chamber ensembles. However, orchestras for the big ballets, such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, are hopelessly beyond the budgets of all but the top-level companies—and they struggle. The use of recorded music is controversial, but a sad reality.
Enter the Dallas Chamber Symphony.
“I was familiar with Bruce Wood and met with him,” McKay says. “We started talking about collaboration about a year ago. We got along really well. His recent death is a real loss. He had a good musical mind and knew a lot of scores. We considered [Aaron Copland’s] Appalachian Spring or some works by Astor Piazzolla.”
Piazzolla is known as the Tango King and his music has enjoyed a renaissance lately. Its tart harmonies and sultry feel captures the attention of almost everyone who hears it. Born in the slums of Argentina, the gritty overtly sexual tango was a starting point for the classically trained Piazzolla. He combined it with elements of jazz, counterpoint and other Western musical forms to create what he called Nuevo Tango. He still kept the sound of the original instrumentation by featuring his own instrument: the bandoneón.
This is an instrument of the concertina family that resembles an accordion without the piano-like keyboard on one side. It only uses buttons and the notes are laid out, alternating, on both sides. This layout is impossible for chromatic music but great for chords and a melody, which is the purpose of the instrument.
“We had trouble finding the original scores,” says McKay. “We also had trouble finding a bandoneón player. We ended up flying one in from Indiana.”
Their next concert, on Sept. 16 at the City Performance Hall, will feature the outstanding local pianist Alex McDonald, who dazzled at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, even though he did not advance past the preliminaries. The interesting program opens with Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite, paired with Shostakovich’s fiery Piano Concerto No. 1 with McDonald. The concerto also features a trumpet soloist and Garcia Montoya will do the honors. Dvořák’s overplayed but always welcome Serenade for Strings ends the program.
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