Dallas — The Dallas Symphony Orchestra gala is an opportunity to get all gussied up in formal wear and feel elegant, at least for an evening. There was a time when such dress was common at all symphony concerts. While few would wish to go back to a steady tux and gown diet of decked-out duds, the gala reminds us that we are missing something with our current custom of casual concert clothing.
The concurrent 25th anniversary of the Meyerson Symphony Center added special sparkle to the celebrations and celebrities to the microphone. We even had some real royalty. Sarah, Duchess of York, made an appearance. Local royalty that was honored too, including Morton H. Meyerson, Margaret McDermott and Ross Perot. Unfortunately, the now 94-year-old architect of the building, I.M. Pei, has curtailed travel and thus could not be in attendance. Instead, he was represented by his son, Sandi, who received a memento to deliver to his father.
For musical royalty, we had our own superstar music director, Jaap van Zweden, on the podium and the legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman (יצחק פרלמן in Hebrew) as soloist.
The program opened with a Maurice Ravel showpiece, the second suite from his ballet Daphnis et Chloé. This was an inspired choice of music in that it demonstrated what a fine orchestra we have and what a superb hall we have in which to hear it. Its difficulties are formidable, but both orchestra and conductor showed mastery of every note. Ravel’s Technicolor score was as dazzling as diamonds (which were not in short supply). Van Zweden overplayed the loud dynamics, blunting the effect of the composer’s idea of where the loudest spots should occur, but this is an all too common complaint of many performances these days.
Of special note, we were treated to hearing our new principal flutist, Demarre McGill, give a searing account of one of the most famous solo passages in the repertoire. He brought a wide range of tonal color to the music, from sultry to spectacular.
Moment of Geek: This solo passage actually requires the assistance of the entire flute section to pull off. Ravel writes for a range that is way beyond what any single flute can play. He does this by using the piccolo to extend the range higher and goes to the bottom via the alto and bass flute. One descending scale actually flashes from the top of the piccolo to the bottom of the bass flute in a few brilliant seconds. It is a tribute to the skill of the DSO flute section that all of McGill’s helpers matched his tone color so closely that the hand-off from one to the other was imperceptible.
Pearlman was next and he gave an insightful and highly personal performance of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a warhorse if there ever was one. He played it in the highly romantic tradition for which it was written: a lush vibrato warming the sound, generous dollops of rubato and an occasional soupçon of slides between notes. As an encore, he played something completely different: the violin solo from John Williams’ score for the movie Schindler’s List, which he played in the soundtrack of the film itself.
The encore also provided something by a living composer, which should grace every symphony program but, alas, usually does not. Too bad that the evening didn’t end there.
Wanting to bring the program to a flashier close, van Zweden whipped through Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien, a nice piece, usually, but which sounded crass in the company it was keeping.
Encores should be short and impressive: a bon-bon treat like a mint or Belgian chocolate after a fine meal. The suite from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier hardly fits the definition. While this work contains some magnificent music and is a personal favorite (except for the tacky added on ending), it is way too long to ever be effective as an encore. In this situation, with everyone eager to get to the after-party that awaited in the lobby, it seemed, for the first time ever, to be endless.