Dallas — According to the 2019-2020 Dallas Symphony Orchestra season announcement, this is the last year for the casual ReMix concerts in Moody Performance Hall. Conceived as a way to bring younger concertgoers to hear the orchestra, they have seldom sold well, despite the free snacks and drinks, the inexpensive tickets, and the brief, intermission-less programs. I will certainly miss them, not only for the free Chardonnay, but also because, as we see this weekend, they are often marvelous smaller-scale programs, sometimes featuring music unlikely to be featured in a regular subscription concert.
This week’s program includes one familiar favorite—Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor, made famous in the dramatic opening scene of the 1984 film Amadeus—and two less familiar offerings, Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances. The program was led by concertmaster Alex Kerr, and he and co-concertmaster Nathan Olson were also soloists on the Pärt.
While in general I find that orchestras performing repertoire later than that of the Baroque period are better off with a conductor who is not also playing an instrument, Kerr did a creditable job in his dual role. In the Mozart, the orchestra’s ensemble was tight, despite the necessity of minimal cues from Kerr. Most musicians, other than cellos, were standing or on high stools for this program, which kept energy levels high. I couldn’t see winds from my floor-level seat, but first desk strings were assiduously making eye contact, which certainly helped keep the whole thing together. Horns seemed to be having a (highly unusual) off night, with some pitch issues, but on the whole this was a dynamic, kinetic performance.
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s music has its roots both in minimalism and in the Catholic liturgical tradition. It often looks and sounds simple, but its simplicity is tricky—players have to make decisions about how to give the music shape and color. Tabula Rasa is essentially a concerto for two violins, in two movements titled “Ludus” (Game) and “Silentium” (Silence). Kerr and Olson played admirably, and Eunice Keem, here performing as concertmaster, helped keep the orchestra together. The first movement of this piece has more momentum, but the second is meditative and almost hypnotic. Some pitch issues in basses late in the second movement were surprising, but otherwise this was an unusual offering (though composed in 1977, the DSO had never performed it before), well-presented.
The program ended with Bartók’s very brief Romanian Folk Dances. This collection of six almost fragmentary pieces reflects Bartók’s fascination with Transylvanian and Romanian folk music, which he spent years collecting. Originally written for piano, the pieces were later orchestrated by Bartók (and also arranged by another composer for violin and piano—apparently there exists a 1930 recording with Joseph Szigeti on violin and Bartók himself on piano performing this version). This was a lively and crowd-pleasing end to a fine concert and to the ReMix series.