Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Symphony chose familiar warhorses for its Season Finale Tuesday evening. But while the music itself was familiar stuff, novelty still abounded. The middle of the program consisted of three short silent films, finalists in the Sight of Sound film competition, backed by live music performed by the orchestra.
The competition allowed filmmakers to choose from a list of music and create a film to accompany it, or choose a piece of music not from the list, in a “wild card” entry—a change from what DCS has become known for: original compositions to silent films.
The first film, Daydreaming at Midnight, set to Schumann’s Traumerei, was the most sophisticated of the lot. A young man walks through grubby city streets, and as he does so, he puts in his earbuds, selects Traumerei on his MP3 player, and as the music begins to play, is whisked into a sort of waking dream in which he is in a peaceful, lovely park, and even his dog enjoys a roll in the grass and an offleash run. At the end of the piece, cut back to the cityscape, and we realize that he has been walking his now-leashed dog along the grim street. Filmmaker Andrew Yorke, who also acts in the film, won the jury prize for this submission.
The second film, Pest Control, which won the audience favorite award (audience members texted their votes in, American Idol style, at intermission), was created by a 13-year-old Hockaday student, Tosca Langbert. She created an animation, set to the Scherzo of Brahms’ Serenade No. 2, in which a grubby purple stuffed koala catches and then releases a plastic toy rat. It was quite an impressive effort, whimsical and fun.
The third film, from Spanish filmmaker Montserrant Martinez, was a “wild card” entry set to Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio for Strings. This film consisted of a series of still photographs of landscapes, people, and objects strung together in a whole that didn’t seem quite unified, although its lack of plot allowed the audience to focus more fully on the music than did the other two films.
The competition is an interesting experiment in adding visual media to orchestral music. It may be drawing audiences, particularly younger audiences, who do not usually attend classical concerts. There was lots of applause between movements (not a big deal, in my book), but also some egregiously annoying behavior: the young couple seated in front of me spent much of the concert talking, taking cell phone photos, or checking Facebook.
It’s a shame, because bookending the film selections was some pretty decent Beethoven. The orchestra performed the Creatures of Prometheus overture to begin the program, and the Symphony No. 2 after intermission. Ensemble overture was reasonably clean, and the opening chords were compelling. Pitch issues were present but not overly distracting.
The first movement of the symphony was not as crisp and clean as might be ideal—the strings sometimes lacked rhythmic precision. The principal strings were all dynamic and lively, but farther back in the sections the musicians appeared to lack verve. This was reflected in some of the playing. In the second movement, for instance, upper string playing that should sound delicate just sounded thin and tentative. The horns had some issues, as well, but bassoons Alex Amsel and Jonna Griffith were standouts. Tempos dragged a bit in the second movement, and throughout were not the breakneck tempos sometimes employed these days in performances of Beethoven. The overall impression, though, was of pleasing, musical performances of these often-heard pieces.
Much-touted Japanese concertmaster Kazuhiro Takagi was absent for this concert, replaced by section first violinist Szemőke Jobbágy.