Dallas — A woman on the podium and a woman soloist together on the same program: unfortunately, a rarity even in the second decade of the new millennium. But such was the case in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s most recent ReMix concert, a celebration of American and American-influenced music. ReMix is the orchestra’s casual series, held in Moody Performance Hall (formerly Dallas City Performance Hall), and featuring free snacks and drinks beforehand, and mingling with the musicians afterward.
On the podium was the DSO’s Assistant Conductor, Ruth Reinhardt, who delivered charming remarks before competently leading the orchestra in a set of mostly little-known pieces. Aaron Copland’s Three Latin American Sketches was first up. While distinctly Coplandesque in spots, the piece is not one of his most played with good reason. Copland is a melodist, yet hummable melodies are in short supply here. The three movements are meant to evoke Venezuela and Mexico, and while there are certainly some rhythmic and melodic elements that evoke the folk tunes of those countries, it seems mostly like an opportunity to highlight the DSO’s able percussion section. Ensemble was a bit rough, but it was a fun romp nevertheless.
The highlight of the evening was certainly Edgar Meyer’s bluegrass-tinged Violin Concerto, performed with grace and spirit by DSO Principal Second Violin Angela Fuller Heyde. Meyer is a bassist and crossover artist who brings American folk idioms onto the orchestral stage; he wrote this concerto in 1999 for Hilary Hahn, a well-known advocate for contemporary music. Folk idioms or no, this is a virtuoso piece for the violinist. It requires immense technical agility, as well as the musical agility to leap among Meyer’s varied musical influences. Heyde was clearly the woman for the job. She has gorgeous tone, elegant vibrato, and technical mastery. One audience member remarked, “There is something special about her playing, isn’t there?”—and it’s true. This is a fun concerto, readily listenable—although the transition into the second movement’s fiddle-style theme has always seemed abrupt to me.
Last up was Dvořák’s seldom-heard “American Suite.” Antonin Dvořák spent nearly three years in the United States in the final decade of the 19th century. He became enamored of various American popular music traditions, including African-American spirituals, and incorporated them into his music in much the same way that he had long used Czech folk tunes. The “American Suite” is one of several manifestations of this American influence (the best-known being of course Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, “From the New World”). The American Suite is no “New World” Symphony—indeed, in contrast to the symphony’s ubiquity, these were the first DSO performances of the piece, though it premiered in 1910. (That, too, is telling—Dvořák wrote the piece in 1894, and while the original piano version was premiered, the orchestra version apparently didn’t garner much interest.)
I was looking forward to hearing this rarity, since in general, Dvořák’s Americana is delightful. This piece did evoke a distinct time in American history, in the most benign way—I could almost see girls in petticoats and boys in short pants rolling hoops in front of some long-gone gazebo. It was cute, jaunty, and fun, and many individual performances, most notably Erin Hannigan’s on oboe, were excellent. However, the orchestra had some ragged entrances and, well, I’d rather just hear the “New World” for the umpteenth time.