Dallas — In these uncertain times, it isn’t a given that live music experiences will manage the right blend of engagement, entertainment, and artistry. Indeed, as opportunities are scarce and most arts organizations are yet discovering innovative ways to push on, the prospect of a fulfilling artistic experience—especially as smaller arts groups are concerned—is not promised.
The Orchestra of New Spain’s latest offering, however, found this blend in the form of a charming garden concert. Presented on Saturday at the beautiful Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden, out of doors with socially distanced seating, the program featured a smart wind band and the work of 19th and 20th century composers Ibert, Danzi, Barber, and others.
Branching away from the usual Medieval and Baroque era fare of this group, the musical selections were effective for the setting—contemporary, delicate, and endlessly charming. Nancy Jarrett Piper, ONS’ principal baroque horn, organized a quite capable group of freelancers for this presentation, featuring bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute, and horn.
The program opened with French neoclassical composer Jacques Ibert’s Trois pièces brèves, an unassuming concert triptych. Elise Belk provided a lovely read of the main oboe theme of the first movement, while Margaret Fishcher, flute, and Chastine Hofmeister, clarinet, offered a pensive duet in the second. The final movement, thicker in texture, invites the other elements, including Sara Scurry on buoyant bassoon, back in for a hearty, cheerful jaunt.
The artists managed a beautiful balance here, which was effective carried throughout the program, and this was major success of the group. To successfully achieve an artful blend of color in this outdoor setting was an impressive feat. Franz Danzi’s early Romantic Quintet in F Major, referenced here in only the first and fourth movements, was light, with wonderful leads in oboe and flute.
Darius Milhaud, the French polytonal composer, is given shining representation through his La Cheminée du Roi René, a seven movement suite adapted from the composer’s film score for the 1939 film Cavalcade d’amour. The players clearly painted the narrative of the passing vignettes, featuring light, agile phrasing in the second and third movements, and dark, contemplative moods in the fourth, ending the piece with a lovely nocturne.
Samuel Barber’s Summer Music, was performed with depth—languid and relaxed in its slower sections with careful exchanges of the several melodic strands that sound throughout the voices. In this open setting, some of the abrupt changes in tempo and perky rhythmic patterns were a bit lost and muddy, but the overall blend was brilliant and well-maintained.
The program closed with Paquito D’Rivera’s Aires Tropicales, featuring five of the original seven movements. The piece is characterized by bright, flourishing dance rhythms and characteristically Latin melodic patterns. The layered effects of the lower voices in the quintet were, at times, less than tight.
It was an overall, lovely experience Halloween afternoon. The beautiful garden and outdoor artwork of the Valley House Gallery provided an ideal backdrop for this attractive musical set. Coupled with a delightful catered lunch, it all made for an artistic experience that was indeed engaging, entertaining, and necessary.