Dallas — The Meyerson Symphony Center hosted a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert on Wednesday to honor the center’s 30th anniversary. This anniversary coincides with the death, in May, of the Meyerson’s architect, I.M. Pei. Also in May, the city of Dallas and the Dallas Symphony reached an agreement in which the orchestra would take over management and operations of the hall, in hopes of providing desperately-needed repairs. These changes are worth both memorializing and celebrating.
Wednesday’s concert was a bit of a strange way to honor the hall, though. There was very little talking, perhaps mercifully—just quick introductions by the DSO’s CEO, Kim Noltemy, and co-concertmaster, Nathan Olson. Both the hall’s new management and Pei’s death were hardly emphasized, in favor of reminders about the Meyerson’s marvelous acoustics and its beauty.
The music itself, conducted by the DSO’s new Assistant Conductor, Katharina Wincor, was a curious hodgepodge—Johann Strauss’ Overture to Die Fledermaus is always a charming opener for these kinds of concerts, but the rest of the program seemed scattered and inchoate. “Summer” from Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which the orchestra is playing (along with the other three seasons) at runout concerts this weekend, was brilliantly played by both the orchestra and violin soloist and director Nathan Olson. But one season left me longing for more, as did the two (of four) movements from Alberto Ginastera’s Dances from Estancia ballet suite. And even more oddly, the concert ended with a prelude—Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin.
But it was the two contemporary pieces on the program that should be of special interest to those curious about the DSO’s direction under Music Director Fabio Luisi. Both were written by composers of color, one of whom, Jessie Montgomery, is a woman in her 30s, while the other, Quinn Mason, is 23 and still a student. Program notes were nonexistent, though, in the abbreviated program for this concert. While Mason was present and took a bow after the concert, there was otherwise no way to know about the composers or their music without a Google search. That’s a shame.
Montgomery’s brief Starburst featured the rhythmic drive and propulsion that is so popular among some contemporary composers, though on first listen it didn’t seem to have more to offer than that propulsive drive. Still, I’m thrilled that diverse composers are getting heard in Dallas, and I’d happily listen to more of Montgomery’s work, and give Starburst multiple hearings, too.
Mason’s much longer Inner City Rhapsody, which received its world premiere Wednesday, was mainly quite tonal, with a lyrical initial section, some broad, shimmering tonalities throughout, and the opportunity for a few decidedly pretty solos by principal players, including Nathan Olson on violin, Christopher Adkins, cello, and David Matthews, English horn. Mason has a mature voice for such a young composer. As with Montgomery’s shorter piece, I would appreciate another opportunity to hear Inner City Rhapsody to understand better what Mason is doing structurally. Orchestration and part writing for the most part seemed sensible, and he seems to have no shortage of ideas. In terms of programming, though, it was too long for this kind of concert, clocking in at 22 minutes in a concert that was only about 70 intermissionless minutes from start to finish. Asking audiences who for the most part probably don’t go to many classical concerts to appreciate a lengthy world premiere may have been asking a bit too much.
The orchestra generally played well, although there were a few surprising issues with intonation and ensemble even in the familiar works. Wincor’s conducting was sometimes clear, and she had evidently put careful study into the two new works, especially, but her beat pattern often devolved into arm circling, most notably in the Overture to Die Fledermaus.
This concert was a great opportunity to get new folks into the Meyerson, to showcase diversity, and to honor a truly great concert hall. Unfortunately, it was mostly a missed opportunity.