Dallas — With an exciting program on paper for the Dallas Symphony—of a duo-piano Poulenc and a world premiere bookended by Mozart—it’s guaranteed to be a good time. Both Mozart were pieces from near the end of his too-short life. Think the modern Margret Hunt Hill bridge spanning a Mozart on either bank. Doubling anticipation was the recent news Music Director Jaap van Zweden begins a new post leading the New York Philharmonic in 2018. So no time like the present to wring out your ultimo crescendo con fuoco.
The audience was waiting to be stimulated. The concert began with the overture to the Mozart opera The Magic Flute. The silent Meyerson cracked open with low brass aha rebounded by buoyant string. Within seconds the orchestra members were listening to each other’s fugal runs. Maestro Van Zweden commanded the symphony by sheer impulse of will, his baton most often prodding each section to dominate the other. Their tone was silken even when fortissimo. Unison accents were magnified as if to personify Mozart’s quote, “The most impudent one has the best chance.” It was appropriately fun and delightful.
The audience was ready for anything. Next came the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Francis Poulenc. Expecting jazzy pastels and gaiety, instead there was electric shock and redirection. Sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque were a dramatic pair, handling Poulenc’s whimsical adventure with aplomb. A flute trill matched a pianistic glissando. After inserting punctuation the orchestra would add a few seconds of connective tissue when the story took a bi-tonal turn. Without warning Poulenc shifted between multiple personalities. He was Mozart via post-war Paris, then Igor Stravinsky, then Kurt Weill, then Aaron Copland, then Bernard Herrmann, then György Ligeti, then Brian Eno. He was the Everyman with ADHD. He even managed to occasionally reference Francis Poulenc, like tangents in a dream from a stolen-sound salad.
At intermission the orchestra’s passion had not yet registered above a B+.
The audience was hoping for heart. And they got it. Serenada Concertante by Jeremy Gill featured principal oboist Erin Hannigan. This world premiere, composed for her, highlighted iron-lung breath control, adventurous technique, and tone like a sunrise. Seated behind, her musical family’s playing was the most emotionally invested of the night; clarinet echoing her oboe like a sibling. Her double reed bassoon brothers had her back. Harp overtones and percussion colors perfectly balanced the mist and fog of muted strings. After a feral opening a slower section allowed Hannigan to stretch out. Perhaps the audience was stretched enough by the challenging dissonances and textures. It was during the quietest moments when cold season became percussively apparent. The DSO owned every one of the composition’s many layers. Same-hearted duets, boiling woodwinds, and dizzying scales were all very beautiful.
The audience was then taken back home to the Mozart of miracles. They got the same fun as before. The first movement had fluid double basses, appropriately colored tones and the orchestra played like a hive mind. Second movement; the audience is attentive. Mozart’s sense of humor was passed around like an elegant punchline. The DSO was responsive to Zweden’s subtle differences on repeats but the joke is sometimes less funny the second time around. Third movement; the audience gets more gusto, and questions. Much has been said of Maestro Zweden’s autocratic tendencies as conductor. He does not seem to be the kind of conductor that encourages musicians to play at their best, but rather at his best. As a former accomplished violinist, does he think the rest of the orchestra is there to support the violins? Fourth movement; the audience is waiting for inspiration. The same emphasized accents. The same gorgeously treated phrases. Does a Mozart symphony carry the same import as his fantasy opera’s overture? At least it sounds exactly as maestro van Zweden wants it to sound.
Pro Tip: Come an hour early to the pre-concert lecture by Dr. William Gibbons. Get the need to know information about the music to help frame your listening.