Dallas — At the close of a year, it’s useful to have a shift in perspective. Due to a last-minute scheduling decision, the New Year’s Eve Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert was completely sold out by the time I was asked to review, so I sat in the Choral Terrace, behind the orchestra. This was a perspective shift in the most literal sense. While this means that there are some aspects of the performance that I cannot accurately judge, there are other details that I never could have observed on the other side of the concert hall.
This concert was more substantial than the usual pops fare, but it was still relatively undemanding and festive: no one selection was longer than 15 minutes or so, there was a champagne toast at intermission, and the program ended with a series of Strauss waltzes and polkas. Many audience members were dressed especially festively, some even in black tie. These festive performances are a great idea for orchestras—not only do they fill seats, but they can be a gateway for those who are not regular concertgoers.
Unfortunately, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor’s solo turn was much muffled since she was singing with her back to me. She sang two of the five songs from Elgar’s Sea Pictures on the first half of the program and three of Carmen’s arias from Bizet’s opera—the orchestra additionally performed the Prelude to Act 1 and Aragonaise plus the Intermezzo from the Carmen Suite No. 1.
A few superlatives from the last night of 2015:
The most elegant part of the evening was O’Connor’s two costumes—a lovely backless blue ballgown for the Elgar, and a Spanish-influenced black lace sheath dress with tulle overlay for the Bizet.
The most unusual piece on the program was an orchestration of Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse. Conductor Karina Canellakis announced from the stage that this was the Dallas Symphony’s premiere of the piece.
The most breathtaking moment of the evening was principal horn David Cooper’s extended solo in Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cooper has the ability to create a seemingly endless musical line—does he never inhale?—and produce a pure, glimmering tone even at softer dynamic levels.
The most enlightening part of sitting in the choral terrace was watching Canellakis from the orchestra side rather than seeing her from the back. She delivered a crisp pattern and cues that were often a simple lift of the forehead. What she did works: she elicited an energetic and clean performance from the DSO.
The most fun aspect of sitting behind the orchestra was watching the percussion section doing their thing. They’re mostly obscured from my usual seats on the floor, but sitting right behind them, I was able to see the tambourine setup for the Bizet, and nearly be jolted out of my seat by the bass drum during Strauss’s “Thunder and Lightning Polka.”
Here’s to a 2016 full of wonderful music.