Dallas — The ReMix series of concerts, performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Dallas City Performance Hall, are engineered to provide a concert experience that is more casual and less expensive than a night at the Meyerson. These concerts achieve that aim, and typically include extras such as a coupon for a free beverage, pre-concert snacks, and post-concert mingling with DSO musicians. But most importantly, they also offer terrific music. Friday evening’s program was a stellar example of what is possible in these programs.
The 75-minute, intermission-free program included six pieces, none more than 20 minutes long and some much shorter. While perhaps intended as a sort of gateway for listeners unaccustomed to listening to longer works, these programs can provide a welcome respite even for those audience members who attend quite a lot of concerts.
The first piece on the program, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt was both the briefest of the evening’s offerings and the best-known. It also ushered in the Soluna: International Music & Art Festival theme of “Myth and Legend,” since Grieg wrote the piece as part of incidental music to accompany playwright Henrik Ibsen’s verse play based on the Norwegian fairy tale Per Gynt.
The orchestra has mostly figured out how to adjust Dallas City Performance Hall’s acoustic panels to optimize sound, although balance was still sometimes an issue, with bassoon overwhelming pizzicato celli in the Grieg’s opening bars. On the whole, though, departing Assistant Conductor Karina Canellakis coaxed sensitive and thoughtful playing from the DSO musicians.
Nowhere was this sensitivity more evident than in Benjamin Britten’s Young Apollo for piano, string quartet, and string orchestra. Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinists Nathan Olson and Angela Fuller Heyde, violist Ann Marie Brink, and cellist Christopher Adkins were featured in this seldom-performed piece. Inspired by lines from John Keats’s unfinished poem “Hyperion,” about the aftermath of the fall of the Titans, Britten’s piece was evidently unsatisfying to the composer. After its 1939 premiere, he withdrew the piece, and it was not performed again for 40 years. This seems a shame, because the interplay of the DSO strings, the featured quartet, and pianist McDermott created a vibrant, energetic, carefully-crafted experience that makes a case for the inclusion of this piece into the Modernist repertoire.
McDermott remained onstage to perform Mozart’s Concert-Rondo in D major for Piano and Orchestra. As she explained in her charming and brief remarks, Mozart originally conceived this piece to be an alternative last movement to his Piano Concerto No. 5, although it is often now played as a stand-alone piece. McDermott is a skillful interpreter of Mozart, performing with clarity and grace. Demarre McGill’s solos were particularly notable, as well, glimmering with light.
The collaborative highlight of the program was a video installation by artist Anton Ginzburg, set to music of Wagner, the “Waldweben” from Siegfried, and Sibelius, Pohjola’s Daughter, both of which take inspiration from Scandinavian and Germanic legends. Canellakis remarked from the podium that the video installation acts as a contemporary myth. It was not immediately evident quite how, at least not to me, and the pairing of the Wagner and Sibelius seemed mostly arbitrary. Still, the video images were engaging and well-coordinated with the music.
The closing offering was Charles Mackerras’s arrangement of instrumental music from Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen. This opera is not based on an ancient legend; it is instead an adaptation of a Czech comic. Still, it has its roots in the ancient genre of the animal fable, so for that reason alone is a good fit with the theme of the concert. More importantly, though, this neglected music is worthy of an effective performance such as the one it received in the hands of the DSO on Friday. While much of the writing is quite difficult, so it’s easy to see why a lesser orchestra would be intimidated, the themes are quite beautiful, and Mackerras’s arrangement ends with a rousing finale that served as a delightful conclusion to another successful ReMix concert.