Dallas — On Friday the Dallas Symphony opened its second year of a Remix concert series, designed for younger/hipper audiences and for Dallas City Performance Hall. Last year, in keeping with the 750-seat performance space, it was more on the order of chamber music. This time, they brought the whole orchestra, albeit with a slightly reduced string section.
They presented a symphonic pops-like program of pieces that were vaguely related to each other in that many were either sung, musical overtures or arrangements of vocal music. The concert title, Song of the Symphony, was an overreach.
The reduction of the string section was still not enough for the occasion as dynamics were one or more steps above what the composer intended for the most of the concert. The sound overrode the sonic capacity of the hall right from the start. The big chords, nine bars into the overture to Mozart’s opera Abduction from the Seraglio, K.384, caused many in the audience to jump.
This was not completely the fault of whoever set out how many players to bring for the concert. A combination of the super energetic cue thrown by guest conductor Nicholas Carter and the subsequent reaction by the orchestra (especially whoever was clanging the crash cymbals) carried the chords into tutta forza range.
Carter has the makings of a fine conductor. The Australian native has a sure technique, a strong opinion of how the music should go and communicates clearly to the orchestra. Both of his hands have their assigned duties (maybe over assigned). Even so, there were still some exaggerated swoops and crouching pianissimo passages (even a librarian-esque finger-to-the-lip shushing). There is still the shiny new conductor sheen about him, which only time and podium hours can burnish, but he is a talent to be watched. He is young and handsome, which never hurts, but we could have done with less of his stand-up comedy routines between the selections.
The centerpiece of the short concert was Manuel de Falla’s 7 Canciones populares Españolas (7 Popular Spanish Songs). Originally for voice and piano, they have been transcribed by for a variety of accompaniments, including this orchestration (not by de Falla). The composer based these songs on real folk tunes but said that they followed more the sprit of the songs rather than an exact note for note transcription.
That same spirit was vividly captured by this performance by soprano Jessica Rivera. Unfortunately, the printed program, which included translations of the text, was useless in following alone with her carefully prepared performance. The texts were printed in small type over a shaded background, which made them hard to read in good light. In the dark theater, without even a hat tip to raising the lights, they became an impossibility. If you happened to know the songs word for word, you could have appreciated her spot-on interpretation. There were a few chuckles at her exclaimed “Ay!” but few knew why they laughed.
Two “songs” on the program were not sung at all. The stunningly beautiful soprano aria “Dido’s Lament,” from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, was inflated to romantic proportions by this arrangement for strings by Leopold Stokowski. Rachmaninoff’s hypnotic “Vocalise” is the last selection in a song cycle for high voice and piano that dates from 1915. It has been arranged for almost everything (even for harmonica and accordion), but this concert presented the composer’s version for orchestra that eliminates that pesky singer. Carter didn’t do very well with the “Vocalise.” He didn’t breathe with the melody and had no road map to the ending. It always sounded like he was starting over so the piece sounded long.
Rivera added in two extraneous songs that were, nevertheless, real audience pleasers. Gershwin’s “Summertime” has completely transcended its original intent and become a jazz standard. (It is still odd to hear it by a non-African-American singer, what with the words like “mammy” in the lyrics.)
The other added song was a newly written and super lush arrangement of “And This is My Beloved” from the musical Kismet. Most of the music in this 1954 show, by Robert Wright and George Forrest, was taken from the works of Borodin. This lovely example is the melody from the slow movement of his string quartet. Here, it sounded like late Puccini.
Gustav Holst’s bouncy Suite in C for string orchestra (known as the St. Paul Suite) was much more successful. Carter set lively tempi and his enjoyment of the music was communicated to the orchestra and on to the audience. The last movement, borrowed from his Suite for Military Band, was a little fast. This made the well-known tune “Greensleeves” sound trivial but it was hard to argue with how the movement jigged along.
The program ended with Gershwin’s overture to the show “Girl Crazy.” As with most show overtures, this is a potpourri of tunes from the show—and what tunes they are. “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm” and “But Not for Me” are standouts, but Gershwin’s endless supply of melody pours out continuously. Hearing this overture, we are reminded about what a great composer he was and what a tragedy it was to lose him, like Schubert (29), Mozart (35) and Bizet (37), at mid-life and mid-career. He was only 38.