Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Symphony is finally starting to reach its potential. This orchestra, now in its fourth season, has attracted some of the best young musicians in DFW to its ranks, and yet it never quite lived up to its promise. However, the orchestra’s sound continues to improve, and creative initiatives are becoming the hallmark of this group. Most notable among those is the Sight of Sound International Film Competition. According to conductor Richard McKay’s remarks on April 19, the competition is drawing an increasing number of entrants. The entrants are given a list of musical compositions, and they select one as a backing track to be played live behind their otherwise silent films.
The eight short films screened Tuesday evening were remarkably various—some had distinct, albeit soundless, plotlines, while some were more freeform. Some were live action, some animated. At least one had a political aim, while others were poignant, creepy, or simply pretty. After the screenings, audience members had the opportunity to vote on a fan favorite, while another winner had previously been selected by a jury of film professionals.
The lighthearted animated short Food Fight by Aparna Hegde (video above), set to Delibes’s “Pizzicato” from Sylvia was the fan favorite. It used the music quite skillfully, as two animated characters popped one hamburger after another into their mouths in an eating competition, to the rhythm of the string pizzicati. The jury winner, and my favorite as well, was Red-Green by Jade Small, set to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Although it integrated the music less well with the action onscreen, the film itself was brilliant. All but the final scene was filmed from the perspective of a red/green colorblind person. At the end of the film, we see that person for the first time as he puts on a pair of glasses that allow him to see the world with typical vision. (Sidebar: these glasses, made by a company called EnChroma, really exist. They have been commercially available for a couple of years now, and seem both like a miracle and like something that someone should have thought of long ago.)
The works that bookended the Sight of Sound selections were rather unfortunately destined to be an afterthought. The program began with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, which revealed both the strengths and the weaknesses of this developing orchestra. It took a measure or two for the orchestra to stabilize the tempo at the beginning of the performance, but once the tempo locked in, there was lots that went right. The strings sounded good—intonation, tone, and ensemble were better than I’ve yet heard them. McKay’s conducting is becoming ever more polished, and the orchestra is responding in kind.
After intermission, the 2015 winner of Dallas Chamber Orchestra’s Dallas International Piano Competition, Saetbyeol Kim, took the stage for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In the first movement, the orchestra had a bit of difficulty staying with Kim as she exercised extensive rubato, and there were noticeable pitch issues in both winds and strings that were most noticeable in orchestral tutti sections. Kim’s playing was competent but not spellbinding, and she frequently seemed musically disconnected from the orchestra. Still, this was a generally enjoyable performance of a much-loved work.
This orchestra is finally beginning to mature into an ensemble worth the price of admission. I look forward to their continued development over the seasons to come.