Dallas — As part of the first week of the Soluna Festival, the Dallas Symphony presented the last, for the 2017-2018 season, of its casual ReMix concerts. These concerts, at Moody Performance Hall, are usually brief and intermissionless, include snacks and free drinks before, and feature an opportunity to meet the musicians afterward. Typically, they’re conducted either by a guest or by an assistant. This time, though, as part of his farewell series of concerts, Jaap van Zweden was on the podium.
The program featured four Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians in solo roles—each demonstrated truly exciting playing, and demonstrated that the musicians of the DSO are excellent individually as well as collectively. The performances were sequenced, deliberately or accidentally, according to how long each orchestra member has played with the DSO.
Veteran Principal Cellist Christopher Adkins began the program, performing Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso, a virtuosic showpiece, albeit one in the rather grim key of B minor. Adkins did not disappoint; after over thirty years with the Dallas Symphony, his technique is still dazzling, and his stage presence charmingly self-effacing. Finding the right mood for this piece is perhaps a bit of a trick, and Adkins and the DSO captured the unusual combination of flash and sobriety that characterizes this late in life composition. The orchestral part is a true accompaniment, and the DSO stayed out of Adkins’ way, as they should.
At the center of the program was Alban Berg’s 1935 Violin Concerto, performed by Associate Concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert. Boisvert was concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony until joining the Dallas Symphony in 2011. As Associate Concertmaster, Boisvert does not get as many solo opportunities as she had in Detroit, so it was a pleasure to hear her musical voice in the Berg. Boisvert’s playing is sensitive, thoughtful, and very nearly note-perfect, and her technique is astonishingly consistent. One quibble: Boisvert doesn’t have a big sound (whether it’s her technique or her instrument, I don’t know). The orchestra had to struggle a bit to stay out of her way, especially when orchestration was thicker, and they weren’t always successful. I was glad to have a seat closer to the front of Moody Performance Hall, because I’m not sure how audible she would have been further back. The concerto, which combines serialism and tonality, is famously dedicated “to the memory of an angel”; the angel is Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius’ daughter Manon Gropius, who died of polio at age 18. It did not premiere until after Berg’s own death. Boisvert and the DSO captured the resulting mood of the concerto, which evokes first life, then death and transfiguration.
The final piece on the program was Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp; soloists were Principal Flute David Buck and Principal Harp Emily Levin, both relative newcomers to the orchestra. Buck is in his first season and Levin her second. Buck has been a notable contributor to the orchestra this season, and in the concerto, demonstrated his warm, golden tone and his lyrical expressivity. Levin, too, was simply mesmerizing. Wearing a bright blue jumpsuit with a train, she created a stage presence that was visually as well as audibly transfixing. The tonal colors she produced went beyond what I knew to be possible on the instrument. The DSO has made some wonderful hires in the past few years, which this performance decisively underscored. The orchestra, for whom classical-era music has not generally been their strongest suit, were clean and understated, balancing the soloists beautifully.
Harp is an underused solo instrument, and the Mozart concerto is, for a harpist, a key part of the repertoire. That’s less true for the flutist, who has far more solo repertoire available, and is probably why Buck made the choice to use printed music, while Levin did not. It’s similar in this way to Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra—for violinists, for whom Mozart wrote five concertos, 36 sonatas, and several smaller works, it’s a trivial part of the repertoire, while many violists name it as their favorite “viola concerto.” Still, I’d love to see Levin featured again, perhaps in one of the 20th or 21st century concertos for the instrument.
While we can’t always expect the ReMix concerts to be conducted by the music director, it was a lesson to see van Zweden finesse the orchestra in the smaller space of the Moody. For the most part, it was a performance that worked brilliantly.