Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Symphony is in some respects an orchestra at a serious disadvantage. It is a part-time orchestra in a city with a formidable full-time symphony. Its personnel roster, while always including some of the best instrumentalists in the area, seems to change significantly from season to season. But what it does well is innovate.
Creative programming, such as Saturday evening’s free community concert at Moody Performance Hall, is what distinguishes this orchestra from other area regional orchestras. Saturday’s concert included a bit of the expected, too, though—it opened with Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni. Here, it is evident that Music Director Richard McKay is improving his conducting—he’s mirroring less, and the orchestra’s ensemble has improved markedly from the last time I heard this group.
The remainder of the first half consisted of three of the silent short films from DCS’s Sight & Sound film competition, with accompaniment by DCS. The first, “Bike,” directed by Carlos J. Escobar, was the frustrating tale of an apparently impoverished child who admires a bike he sees in a store window, creates a flip book of himself riding the bike, shows it to his dad as they stand in front of the shop window, and they smile at each other appreciatively. Fini. We also see a flip book, apparently drawn by the father, of a man playing violin. Is the message that if we can’t afford to realize our dreams, drawing them is almost as good? In any event, the film was set to the gorgeous Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni. The orchestra sounded, for the most part, lovely. Music: excellent. Film: maddening.
The second film, “The Swan,” directed by Jono Eschleman, was set to, unsurprisingly, an arrangement of “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. Principal cellist Joseph Kuipers exhibited a lush tone in his solo turn here. In this film, the protagonist already has a bike. And in the first scene, she rides it! But then she’s sad she’s not married, and then she goes to dinner with friends. The lesson: despite what the child in the previous film thinks, owning a nice bike is not key to happiness. But maybe marriage is. Or maybe it’s that having good friends is. I’m not sure. Music: again excellent. Film: puzzling. Also disturbing.
The final film, the longest of the three, was Adam Grennick’s “La Folia,” set to Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor, a reworking of Corelli’s violin sonata nicknamed “La Folia.” This film is a pastiche of seemingly unrelated scenes: a young girl at a ballet audition, Fantasia-like fairies lighting lamps, a guy with a boring desk job, martial artists, a thief, a cook, a dead duckling, an old man writing and crumpling page after page… and then the youthful ballerina again, this time mysteriously self-confident. Guest Concertmaster Chloé Trevor sparkled in her solo passages. Music: good. Film: occasionally quite beautiful, but cryptic.
The second half of the program began with Saint-Saëns’ seldom-heard Tarantella for Flute and Clarinet, with Ebonee Thomas on flute and Danny Goldman on clarinet. Their display of technical virtuosity rightfully earned cheers.
But the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the final piece, the premiere of Douglas Buchanan’s Crossroads. Composer Buchanan, who was raised in Dallas, has a lifelong connection to Dallas’ homeless population: his father was Executive Director of the Stewpot, and the younger Buchanan volunteered there as a teen. Thus it seems a natural fit that he would compose a piece that DCS could perform with the Dallas Street Choir, a group comprised of homeless and disadvantaged Dallasites, founded and directed by Jonathan Palant. Artist Willie Baronet, whose collage of cardboard signs used by those asking for assistance was displayed in the lobby of the performance hall, also narrated Crossroads. Was the Dallas Street Choir always perfectly in tune, and was their ensemble flawless? No. But imperfections really only highlighted that these singers, these people, are human. Also, the singers, some of whom were clearly uncomfortable on stage, others of whom were self-consciously professional, were performing an act of deeply human courage. If the purpose of the evening was to remind us of the individual personhood of the homeless, I can hardly think of a better way to achieve that purpose.