Dallas — Anyone who thinks that classical music concerts can’t be fun and serious at the same time should have been at the Dallas Symphony’s ReMix performance this weekend. This series took a while to find its identity and its audience, but both of those goals appear to have been achieved.
On Friday Dallas City Performance Hall was nearly filled with a more diverse, younger, crowd than attends the concerts at the Meyerson across the street. The music for also aimed at the audience without pandering. It was for an appropriately chamber sized group of musicians and enhanced by the Dallas Black Dance Theater II, and ranged from the madcap to the sublime.
Also with the audience in mind, the program was carefully chosen to be exceptionally enjoyable for experienced concertgoers and newbies alike. Under the direction of assistant conductor Karina Canellakis, the music covered the modern era, from its turn-of-the-century inception to just a few years ago.
All books about the history of contemporary music start with Claude Debussy and many experts consider his 1894 Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Afternoon of a Faun) to be the seminal work of the modern era. In that era, compositions were for mammoth orchestras whereas faune was written for a more modest orchestra (here reduced even further with no apparent damage). In an era of tonal complexity and increasing dissonance, faune freely floats above tonality with unusual (for the time) scales and enigmatic modulations. It sounds spontaneous and improvised but a closer look reveals a precise organization like the working of a fine watch.
This arrangement, for just a handful of players, was prepared by Benno Sachs for a musical society run by the 20th century bad boy Arnold Schoenberg with the sole purpose of reducing such works to small ensembles, to increase exposure, in an era before the proliferation of recordings. Nothing of importance was missing.
Canellakis was cautious, with frequent subdivision that a larger ensemble might need, but the reduced ensemble gave the piece a marvelous performance. DSO Principal Flute Demarre McGill gloriously played the famous flute solo that opens and runs through the piece—and all in one breath.
On the more recent side, Melodia, by Marc-Andre Dalbavie, is only six years old. The 54-year-old French composer divides his players into three groups. Two horns and a handful of winds are split into two groups in the audience on either side of the stage. Strings, harp and percussion are in the center. The music is abstract with isolated events that eventually cascade into stunning ending.
Both of these pieces were accompanied by the Dallas Black Dance Theater II, choreographed by Nycole Ray. Melodia was the most effective. She divided her dancers into the same groups as the composer accomplished with his players. The choreography was athletic, using an effective combination of modern dance and gymnastics, which sometimes was complementary to the music and other times completely divorced from it.
In this it was reminiscent of the work of composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who purposely worked to unrelated the music and the choreography, even to then point of working separately and only putting the two elements together at the performance.
The faune of Debussy’s prelude, and the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé on which it is based, is not the cute little Bambi of Disney fame. The faune is really a scarier creature: a half-man, half-goat who hides in the forest and loves mischief. In the poem, his satyr side takes hold and he chases after some nymphs and eventually tires and falls asleep.
The choreography featured a satyrish male chasing after some nymphs, but was mostly too frantic for Debussy’s sensual and languorous music. That aside, it was beautifully performed and the ending was excellent.
The program opened and ended with two works that didn’t take themselves seriously and were intended to delight.
Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 1 dates from 1922 and draws on the composer’s early experience playing in stage bands and in the pit for musical comedies. You can tell that this is an irreverent piece by a look at the score: the percussionist plays on a tin can and launches a siren.
But all of the antics in Hindemith’s suite were trumped by Jacques Ibert’s Divertissement, a suite drawn from his music for the silent film The Italian Straw Hat, a French farce by Eugène Labiche, in which the action results from a horse eating the hat. It is a wild and wacky piece, full of familiar quotes, distorted for comic effect. Jazz and vaudeville influences are apparent. The final chaotic march uses a police whistle, when things really get out of hand.
Canellakis delivered a performance that played up all of the hilarious elements of the piece and was greatly enhanced by all of the laughter in the audience.
Part of the ReMix success is that it is tailored to be a perfect start to the weekend: as a date night (for the hitched or hopeful) or something fun and enlightening for a group of friends or family on a Friday.
The festivities start at 6:30, with an open bar and some interesting munchies. Even if you are running late, you can stop by the bar, use the free drink ticket in your program and bring your beverage into the hall with you. The concert starts at 7:30 and is over by 8:45. Afterwards, the performers come out into the lobby to visit with the audience members, the bar is still open, and you can easily make a 9 p.m. dinner reservation afterwards.
No wonder it is crowded.
A classical music concert that is laugh-out-loud fun? Land sakes! Who ever heard of such a thing?