Dallas — The Dallas Symphony’s ReMix concert series in Dallas City Performance Hall is a great initiative that still seems to be uncertain in its purpose. These brief, intermissionless concerts with snacks, free wine and beer, musician meet-and-greets, and low ticket prices ($19, with a buy-one-get-one-free offer available on Facebook) provide a top-tier musical experience for less than the cost of a movie. However, the repertoire at these concerts is sometimes, perhaps, not the most beginner-friendly.
Such was the case with Friday’s concert, conducted by the Belfast-born Courtney Lewis, currently music director of the Jacksonville (Florida) Symphony. The program began with Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus. Lewis demonstrated a sure, controlled, yet vigorous stick technique, with a clear downbeat. The first violins were meticulously clean in tricky sixteenth-note passages. This well-known overture was a delightful start to the program.
With Alfred Schittke’s 1982 Concerto Grosso No. 2 for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, the evening took a more sinister but interestingly-timed turn; this concerto’s apocalyptic mood seemed either just right or exactly wrong for Inauguration Day. Lewis’ brief, well-prepared, and helpful remarks provided an excellent introduction to the piece.
Schnittke is known as a “polystylistic” composer; polystylism is a blending of styles seen in postmodern music, literature, and other arts. The second Concerto Grosso, then, begins with an allusion to “Silent Night,” which morphs briefly into Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, and then is interrupted by the music of a rock band (including drum set and electric guitar). While the singularly varied musical ideas in this piece and its commentary on contemporary life are often brilliant, its 35-minute duration seemed about 10 minutes too long. Still, the orchestra and especially soloists Maria Schleuning, violin, and Jolyon Pegis, cello, made the most of Schnittke’s piece.
Schleuning and Pegis took a fearless approach to this formidable repertoire, sometimes smiling insouciantly at one another after a particularly gnarly passage. Schleuning in particular is no stranger to the complexities of contemporary music, as the Artistic Director of Dallas new music ensemble Voices of Change. The duo first performed this piece last year, with the Laredo Symphony. This piece certainly deserves a listen, especially with performers as skillful as those we heard on Friday. It does raise questions about the mission of the ReMix concerts, however, since this is not repertoire that the listener will go home humming.
The same cannot be said for Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, the “Classical.” This symphony, a modernist take on the classical style of Hadyn and Mozart, features hummable tunes aplenty. It also features some of the most technically difficult string parts in the orchestral repertoire. Occasionally on Friday, this difficulty showed, with a few rough moments of shaky ensemble, but for the most part the symphony was just as it should be: light, delightful, and fun, a fine closer for an interesting mix of a program.