Dallas — The Dallas Symphony’s annual Gala is a combination concert and social event. And so it was on Friday evening, at a decked-out Meyerson Symphony Center. Also equally decked out were the attendees, with men in tuxedos and ladies in formal floor-length gowns and bejeweled necks and ears. There was a time when this was how people dressed for every concert or event they attended, except the men went one step further and wore tails. Nowadays, in an era of more casual attire, being in a crowd of formally dressed people is a large part of the evening’s festivities.
For the patrons, who forked out some bucks for a seat at the table, the evening stared out with a fancy dinner set up in the lobby. But anyone could buy a ticket for the concert, which started at 8:45 or so. Everyone in attendance was invited to the after-party, with an open bar with a mob scene for a line. There were nibbles, some served and others on a buffet table. The fare ranged from a corn chip with guacamole to mini-cupcakes.
The concert in the middle of these festivities was as extravagant as the rest of the evening. Usually, galas bring in a superstar soloist, a dwindling classification. Chinese rock-star pianist, Lang Lang, certainly fits that description. When he first came to everyone’s attention in 1999, it was with a splash. His transcendental mastery of technique was matched by the extravagant show he put on while playing. (Quite a quandary for critics.) Fortunately, at 34, he has calmed down considerably, allowing his remarkable technical prowess to come to the fore.
One thing that has not calmed down is his original take on the standard repertoire. Hearing his performance of the ever-popular B-flat minor piano concerto by Tchaikovsky creates a contradiction in assessing his performance. On the one hand, it is obvious that he has carefully studied, even pondered, every phrase in the concerto—starting at the note level. His astounding ability at the piano is equally obvious. On the other hand, his very personal performance of the score rises above interpretation to a level of commenting. Tempi were sometimes incredibly fast and other times incredibly slow. He frequently added accents and elevated some inner lines to prominence. But the bottom line is that Lang Lang delivered an exciting and erudite performance of singular originality that was perfectly played. He played an encore, delivering an incendiary conflagration of Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” from his ballet El amor brujo.
The Dallas Symphony was marvelous all evening. Music Director Jaap van Zweden stayed right with Lang Lang through all of his tempo indulgences, although once he had to catch up when the pianist took off running. One change in the orchestra’s personnel became obvious when it came to the big flute solo. The much-lauded principal flutist, Demarre McGill, has taken the position of principal flute in the Metropolitan Opera after his short tenure here. Guest principals are scheduled for the season, starting with Matthew Roitstein, who is the Associate Principal Flute with the Houston Symphony. It will be interesting to hear the difference the various players will make to the sound of the wind section.
The abbreviated program concluded with a blazing performance of some selections from the two assembled suites, mostly from Suite II, from Prokofiev’s wondrous ballet score for Romeo and Juliet. It was a little confusing for members of the audience unfamiliar with the music because the selections differed from the printed program. As with all ballet music, it helps to know what is going on when it is being played. The “Juliet as a young girl” section is not just some fast music, very fast indeed on Friday, if you connect the title with the music. But no one could have any confusion about what a spectacular job the DSO did with this most challenging score.