Dallas — While Dallas Symphony Assistant Conductor Ruth Reinhardt is almost certainly not on the short list for the DSO’s music director post, with this weekend’s slate of casual ReMix concerts, she proved herself a worthy contender for a music director post somewhere, someday. (I’m pretty certain that past Assistant Conductor Karina Canellakis, also a worthy young conductor, is not on the short list for the DSO either, though such a thing was guessed at here by the Dallas Observer in February.)
This weekend’s set of casual concerts, two in Moody Performance Hall plus a run-out at the Murchison Performing Arts Center in Denton, was an all-Italian program. The concert was bookended by two familiar Rossini overtures, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Guillaume Tell, while in the middle were two pieces by Luciano Berio, selections from Folk Songs for Voice and Orchestra, with mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert, and Rendering, a re-casting of themes from a Tenth Symphony that Franz Schubert left sketches for when he died.
The marketing for the concert was a bit of a bait and switch, advertising as it did the Rossini overtures, which comprised only about a quarter of the total duration of the concert. The less familiar and less publicized Berio Folk Songs were similarly brief, while the 1990 Rendering is a half-hour long, intellectually challenging symphonic work. Rossini it ain’t. Still, the audience seemed receptive and appreciative — and young. If the goal of the ReMix concerts is to attract a younger audience, it’s working — lots of students and 20- and 30-somethings were in attendance.
As for the Rossini, the Il barbiere di Siviglia (“Barber of Seville”) Overture was crispy clean—Rossini should be played with precise articulation, and the orchestra nailed it—violins in particular were enviably clear. The Guillaume Tell (“William Tell”) Overture was more mixed—Theodore Harvey’s cello solo was lush and gorgeous, and David Matthews’ English horn solo had a delicious richness. Some cracked notes in the brass during the famous Lone Ranger theme and overmuch tympani—the Moody does not have the Meyerson’s acoustics and can’t absorb that much volume—distracted from an otherwise fun performance.
The DSO had not performed either of the Berio pieces before, so unsurprisingly there were some relatively minor ensemble issues typical of first performances of unfamiliar works. The Folk Songs were charming, representing cultures from USA to Italy to Azerbaijan. Berio noted that while he did not write these songs, he “recomposed” them with new rhythms and harmonies. Indeed, these songs may sound alien to listeners accustomed to the typically simple harmonies of most folk traditions. Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert handled the songs ably—she has a pure but strong voice with a variety of expressive colors, and delightful acting skills that enabled her to connect readily with the audience. Only a few balance issues, with the orchestra overwhelming the soloist in the French “Rossignolet du bois,” detracted from the overall effect.
Keeping the audience’s attention in a long, postmodern work such as Rendering is always a trick, but it’s a trick that the DSO and Reinhardt seem mostly to have mastered. One characteristic of postmodernism, the artistic movement that began in the 1960s, is fragmentation, and this piece is an exemplar of that quality. It begins with Schubert’s own sketches of his never-to-be-composed Tenth Symphony, then fills in the gaps with Berio’s own work. This piece does not try to imagine what Schubert might have written, although that has been done by others. Instead, Berio’s interruptions, in his own musical language, simply serve to emphasize what Schubert was not able to finish. This, glissandos in the strings and weird harmonies are layered over Schubert’s classical precision. Reinhardt’s conducting in this complex piece and more generally is visually elegant, with a decisive downbeat. First violins in particular suffered from some untidiness in intonation and ensemble, but overall this was a fine performance of an unfamiliar but compelling work.