Dallas — In the famous series of conversations recorded in the 1960s between American composers John Cage and Morton Feldman, they discuss the presence of loud radios out on the beach. When Cage asked Feldman how he adjusted to the sensation, he replied, “Well, I thought of the sun and the sea as a lesser evil.” When measuring the dimensions and general features of a temporal experience, whether seen, heard, or felt in any other way, there is a certain amount of intrusion which is the experience. The absurdity of the contemporary absorption of art is that we are keen to process all aspects of cognition on the same channel in a synthesis of contrasting disturbances into a single stream. As expert multitaskers, we do everything with some sort of distraction or anxiety to which we adjust. But it is the purpose of music to strategically present experiential intrusions such as sand, water, sun, and radio in a way in which we cannot adjust.
Friday evening’s performance of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s ReMix series at the Dallas City Performance Hall, part of the Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival, presented an interesting mix of music by European composers who had found refuge as well as lucrative careers in southern California. The aesthetic sensibilities of the composers presented is that of concise statements of musical drama fit within a fairly limited structure which forces creative use of orchestration and rhetoric.
The first work, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Sea Hawk Overture is typically post-Romantic in its orchestration and proportions. With a lush and full opening, the hall was easily overpowered with sound. While this could be seen as preparing the ear for more sensitive contrasting material, the sound never changed. Although very balanced at the beginning, the drama of the work relies on the subtle shifts of balance. In this performance, the shifts were very subtle; the listener had adapted within the first couple minutes of the piece.
In speaking to the audience, DSO Assistant Conductor Karina Canellakis made a significant contribution to the music. Whetting our ears with sounds of a confident and articulate voice smoothed over the awkward and uncomfortable shifting of musicians between movements. However, referring to music of Arnold Schoenberg as “weird” in contrast to music that pleases did nothing to prepare the listener for anything except for generic curiosity at best. Her refusal to understand or at least enter the language of this music was made clear by the performance of Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, Op. 34. Indeed, it sounded weird. Although pretty close to rhythmic accuracy, there was little attempt at shaping the gestural and harmonic drama of what should be very moving music. The piece was rendered motionless as a result of this; when the music is motionless, the audience is not.
The most successful music of the performance was that of the Hungarian-American composer Miklós Rózsa. A film by visual artist Pipilotti Rist accompanied the Andante for String Orchestra, Op 22A. The film helped further the autobiographical tone set by Canellakis’ story of the composer longing for his homeland while writing the piece. In the video projected behind the orchestra, nature and technology were presented at odds and destroying each other as though to suggest perhaps the loss of identity by committing to the changes of circumstance, either real (as moving to a new country) or imagined (altering one’s mind to please expectation). Even the constantly moving black border around the film vaguely resembled the shape of Hungary on occasion.
Pianist Conrad Tao joined those on stage for the Spellbound Concerto, an arrangement of material Rózsa composed for his only collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. Again dramatic and romantic, the sound of the orchestra overwhelmed the piano. The lid of the instrument was removed which paid no complements to Tao’s aggressive style. Rather than directing sound to our ears, his playing was directed to the ceiling before reaching the back of the hall which made the piano sound like it was at the end of long, brick hallway or perhaps in the shower. Brilliant, but constant, the listener had again adapted to the playing quickly.
If the lighting design as well as the blue and red shoes and ties had an impact, it was that they were a welcome change from typical concert attire and a generic wash. But it came off as being directed rather than spontaneous; no purposeful message relating to the sonic events of the evening could be detected which neither added nor detracted from the experience. They were simply the radio on the beach. We adapted then moved on.
» We have a complete schedule in our Soluna Festival special section on TheaterJones. Look for features and previews during the Soluna Festival in our special section. For more information, such as ticket prices, visit mydso.com/solunafestival