Dallas — Somehow, it seems like a futile task to write a review about an orchestral gala concert. The actual music part, which is the primary function of a review, is only a part of the evening. So it was with the Dallas Symphony’s spectacular gala on Sept. 17. The concert itself was relatively short—Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Seventh Symphony—and was framed by a lavish dinner and after party. Both the social and musical worlds of Dallas turned out, all smartly tuxed, coifed, jeweled and gowned.
Of course, for a gala, there has to be a RBN (really big name) soloist to headline. On Saturday, it was legendary violinist Pinchas Zukerman. Discovered by Isaac Stern and a student of the equally legendary Juilliard-based violin teacher Ivan Galamian, he has been at the top of the list of fine violinists ever since his 1969 debut. He is equally at home on the viola and as a conductor on the podium.
The other two requirements, considering that the goal of a gala is to raise money, is a collection of SPC (socially prominent couples) as the chairs of the dinner and party and a BNS (big name sponsor).
For this event, the chairs were Jennifer and Coly Clark co-chairing with Katherine and Key Coker. Both gentlemen head major banking concerns. There was also an honorary chair couple, the requisite politician: The Honorable Glenn and Mrs. Dara Hegar. He is an attorney who serves as the Texas State Comptroller of Public Accounts.
The Vivaldi Patron Circle Board, a DSO support group, chaired the after party with Anna-Sophia van Zweden serving as honorary chair for the festivities. The corporate sponsor was AT&T, whose name also festoons the several arts venues next to the Meyerson in the Arts District.
These chair positions are a social plum, but also a lot of work (perhaps not as much for the honorary ones). This is a huge event to plan and pull off.
The catered dinner was set up in the elegantly decorated lobby of the Meyerson Symphony Center, filled to the brim with round tables for ten. All this had to be cleared away and then re-set up for the after-party during the concert. As guests left the concert, we were greeted with waiters with a tray of sweets, very nice, and amplified rockish dance music, a little jarring.
The concert itself opened with the usual congratulatory remarks by all involved. DSO president and CEO Jonathan Martin made the all-important announcement: the gala raised more than half a million dollars in support of the DSO. It is impossible to guess what the event cost, or how that cost was covered, but the end result brought great benefit to the DSO, if only to remind the well-heeled, who may not attend another concert all year, that Dallas has a magnificent orchestra that is the pride of the city and certainly worthy of their support.
That “reminder” concert succeeded, judging by the rapturous response from the audience. The applause finally stopped, although still vigorous, when the lights came up in order to shoo the attendees out of the concert hall and into the alternate reality of the after-party.
About the concert: The orchestra was in top form, especially considering that they have been off all summer, except for an appearance in Vail, scattered hither and yon to various summer festivals. Music Director Jaap van Zweden was as intense, controlling and scowling as ever, but he no longer conducts from his shoulder. While this change in technique may have been caused by an injury, it is a marked improvement. By depending more on his elbow and wrist as a fulcrum, it keeps his previously more expansive frame limited, which adds clarity and dignity. (The maximum reach of a conductor’s beat in all directions forms the “frame.”)
Zuckerman’s performance of Beethoven’s remarkable concerto was highly personal, deeply felt, and unusual in most respects. As such, it was a memorable performance for those of us who love this work. To start with, the sound from Zuckerman’s 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù violin is amazing, clear and focused without the edge of some other violins made in that magical era. Combined with his control of vibrato, especially the finger vibrato at the top of the E string, even the softest sounds sailed out to the back wall of the Meyerson while he delivered other louder passages with force without overplaying either the instrument or Beethoven’s style.
On the other hand, something was going on with his bow all evening. Bow hair appeared to break easily, which happens more often in the more aggressive concerti such as those of Bartók. Further, he swiped it through the air a few times to loosen it up. It would be interesting to find out what bow he was using: perhaps it was a first outing of a new one.
When you ask violinists which concerto is the hardest to pull off, many will say the Beethoven. They complain that it is really piano music that doesn’t comfortably fit the instrument. Zuckerman seems to have found a way around this. He moved quickly through the virtuoso parts, minimizing them, and lingering on the soaring melodic passages giving them more prominence by contrast. As a result, Beethoven’s concerto came off as a masterpiece of lyric beauty with some impressive virtuoso passagework instead of the other way around.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is all about rhythm. Richard Wagner famously called it the apotheosis of the dance. It is also remarkable in that it doesn’t have a slow movement; the slowest is still marked allegretto. This means that the symphony has four differently paced movements that stand in cooperative contrast to each other. Thus, unlike many other symphonies, the tempi of each must to fit together in order for the entire symphony to work the way the composer intended.
Under van Zweden’s direction, things were fine for the first two movements, especially the second, but the last two were completely out of whack. Both were severely rushed. The last movement suffered the most, crunching the carefully written rhythmic distinctions into a blur and trivializing Beethoven’s joyful romp of a finale into a frenzy.