Dallas — The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Soluna International Music & Arts Festival came to a close this weekend with a final program by the DSO. While somewhat overshadowed in its last week by the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the DSO program provided an engaging end to the festival.
The Soluna Festival incorporates innovation into most of its programming, and this weekend’s performances were no exception. While the three performances, on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon, followed a conventional pattern, the novelty was that Saturday’s performance was different from the others. On Friday and Sunday, pianist Yefim Bronfman performed Brahms’ Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 82, in the first half of the program. On Saturday, Bronfman’s performance was replaced by “Beyond the Score: Pure Propaganda?”. This was a multi-media show with actors, projections, and the orchestra. It was a sort of music history lesson for the second half of the program (which was the same for all three performances). This was Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100.
I attended both Saturday’s and Sunday’s performances, to hear both iterations of the program.
“Beyond the Score” is a terrific concept—using actors to provide background on the piece we’re about to hear is an excellent idea. Execution on Saturday was more problematic, however. One actor portrayed Prokofiev, but the three others embodied many different characters, without clear differentiation. So it was impossible even for someone familiar with twentieth-century Russian history to determine exactly who was supposed to be speaking. Additionally, after presenting a chronological timeline of Prokofiev’s early works, the program became rather disjointed, having pianist Shields-Collins Bray play a short excerpt from a little piece Prokofiev wrote at the age of eight—charming, but without a clear connection to the whole—and presenting other works out of order. The projections weren’t entirely helpful, either, presenting images that did not self-evidently go with the pieces being played or the text being enacted. I hope to see this experiment repeated next season, but perhaps with a different, clearer approach.
The first half on Sunday, Bronfman’s performance of the Brahms, was very good, though not the transcendent experience of his recital two weeks earlier, also in the Meyerson as part of the Soluna Festival. Bronfman’s musicality, and the orchestra’s under conductor Jaap van Zweden, was thoughtful, but Bronfman lacked the precision of his earlier performance-- he dropped some notes, especially on runs. Still, the opening of the first movement, with its duo between horn and piano (perhaps the last opportunity to hear Principal Horn David Cooper before he decamps for the Berlin Philharmonic) was chill-inducing. The third movement, with its extended solo by Principal Cello Christopher Adkins, was glorious; Adkins’ delicious tone and phrasing provided just the right mood. These moments more than compensated for any issues.
The Prokofiev is a glorious paean to melody, and the Dallas Symphony excelled. The strings, especially the first violins, were precise in ensemble and pitch—this was brilliant, tight string playing in exceptionally difficult repertoire. The orchestra overall demonstrated exemplary ensemble. Principal Clarinet Gregory Raden’s solos were glorious. This was playing of the highest caliber by the DSO.