Dallas Symphony musicians Christine Hwang (viola), Jennifer Humphreys (cello), Deborah Mashburn (timpani, in background) with James Talambas (at right) playing Ellen Fullman\'s Long String Instrument

Soluna Blog

Updated coverage of the Dallas Symphony's fifth Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival.

published Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Photo: John Fago
Ellen Fullman's Long String Instrument will be part of The Language of Nature performance on April 24


TheaterJones has an ongoing blog about the events in the fifth annual SOLUNA: International Music and Arts Festival, which runs through April 27 at various venues in central Dallas. Many of these reviews will be written by Richard Oliver, with posts other TheaterJones contributors. We'll also link to full-length reviews of certain Soluna events that were published elsewhere on the site.

We also have a special section devoted to Soluna coverage. Click on the SOLUNA FESTIVAL 2019 text in the black banner at the top of this page and you'll see the special coverage.




Editor's note: Soluna Festival is over, but look for reviews of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Firebird and Faces of Dallas from Verdigris Ensemble coming on the site, and in this blog.




The Language of Nature

Co-Commissioned by Soluna and The Cedars Union

The Boedecker (April 24)

Published May 1, 2019


Photo: Mark Lowry
Dallas Symphony musicians Christine Hwang (viola), Jennifer Humphreys (cello), Deborah Mashburn (timpani, in background) with James Talambas (at right) playing Ellen Fullman's Long String Instrument
I took some art criticism classes in college, and I remember on the first day of 101, my professor taught us to never use the word “interesting.” It’s vapid and undescriptive, and worse, a copout. However, there have been a few marked experiences in my career where “interesting” is the prevailing word that comes to mind, not for lack of any others, but in the truest, denotative sense of the word.

When something poses enough artistic merit to stimulate, but neither in the negative nor the affirmative, how should it be described? When that stimulus piques one’s interest, but not enough is yet known on the subject to draw a critical conclusion, what other word is there?

This is the impression I am weighed with regarding Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument and the performance of The Language of Nature, which had its world premiere on April 24 at the Boedecker as a part of the SOLUNA International Music and Arts Festival.

In co-commission with The Cedars Union, the performance was, immediately, visually arresting. The steel-and-bronze strings of Fullman’s 100-foot long creation span from one end of the warehouse to the other, reflecting the glimmer of spotlights up to artist Sheryl Anaya’s installation hanging above. It was fibrous weaving of natural and synthetic textures in various shapes, all in a milky white. The instrument itself is anchored by a large wooden resonant box, with each string of the 50-some string weighed down and secured by a bright orange sandbag.

Accompanying the instrument were members of the Dallas Symphony orchestra, set up on either side—violist Christine Hwang, cellist Jennifer Humphreys, and Deborah Mashburn on the timpani. Together the instruments created an aurally intoxicating soundscape, with much of the melody coming from the cello and viola. Fullman played by walking amongst the strings, bowing them lengthwise with rosin covered fingertips. In her largely improvised piece “Traces,” the nature of the LSI’s sound—wide, droning harmonies covered with bright, shimmering overtones—functioned much like the wind. The tonal makeup at any given moment was ephemeral and dissonant, striking against the more solid lines from the other musicians. At times, it was difficult to distinguish the colors of one player to the other, but the overall effect was one that I had never heard before.

The second piece was performed with gusto by a student of Fullman’s, James Talambas. His composition, “Cold is the Ground,” was far more melodic and grounded. His performance practice was more dynamic and harsh, with bold sonorities rising out of the mega instrument in close coordination with the cello and violin. His piece, as he described it, is inspired by the “fundamental frequencies of the natural world.” Here, the glimmering tones of the instrument felt deeper—more boisterous—though still faintly unpredictable, wide, and wild. Talambas conveyed a palpable connection to the instrument, even having a rock star moment when he broke one of the strings.

All in all, the performance was effective. Fullman’s juggernaut definitely creates a landscape of sound that is difficult to find anywhere else. How that landscape—the weighty overtones and piercingly bright drones—serve to reflect aspects of the natural world is up to interpretation. I, still, find myself simply “interested.” Neither good, nor bad, but thoroughly piqued. I would certainly welcome another chance to experience the LSI, perhaps with a bit more context into the performance practice and the process of composing for it.

— Richard Oliver




Presented by The Dallas Opera

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House

Published April 28, 2019


The Dallas Opera closed its season with its first production of Verdi's Falstaff, centering on the famous character introduced in three of Shakespeare's plays, notably The Merry Wives of Windsor. Chief classical music and opera critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs said it was very funny, a rarity in the opera world. 

Read the review here.



Photo: Courtesy
Jennifer Hudson


Jennifer Hudson

Meyerson Symphony Center (April 20)

Published April 27, 2019


There is little to nothing that can be said about Jennifer Hudson that hasn’t been said already. She is a juggernaut of a vocalist, with a long list of lofty accolades defining her musical career—from GRAMMY Awards, an Oscar nomination, a Tony Award, and the NAACP Image Award, to name a few. The recording artist, turned actress, turned Broadway star, (and so on), has wowed audiences across the world with her virtuosic navigation of pop, jazz, R&B, gospel, and showtunes, and as the headliner for the SOLUNA International Music and Arts Festival, her concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center kept the packed house fully engaged from start to finish.

Her instrument was a perfect pairing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. With undeniable power and finesse, Hudson performed many of her well-known pop numbers, like “Spotlight” and “Night of Your Life.” Her band and back up singers, whom she refers to as the Hudsonettes, were tight and full of energy.

The more musical numbers, like “Love You I Do” and “One Night Only,” from her Academy Award-winning portrayal of Effie in the 2007 film adaptation of Dreamgirls, shimmered with presence as the DSO played with marked ability and attention. Under the baton of Sarah Hicks, the orchestra was remarkably attentive to Hudson’s interpretation and grandiose showmanship.

Throughout the concert, Hudson displayed a refreshing amount of grace and sincerity, starting the show out in the house and shaking hands with patrons as she made her way to the stage. A section of her set was devoted to reinterpretations of timeless dance hits, like Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Michael Jackson’s “Dance and Shout.” Aided by security, she stepped down into the house for an impromptu dance party with the audience.

She also covered other favorites, like the everlasting “Purple Rain” by Prince, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love,” which is an immeasurable feat on its own.

Hudson’s show was undeniably fun and full of spirit. She gleefully merged all of the major successes of her career into nearly two hours of nonstop mirth. I’m excited to see her in Tom Hooper’s upcoming film remake of CATS, and over the moon for her portrayal of Aretha Franklin in the biopic Respect, set to come out next summer. If she brings the same level of energy and commitment to that role as she did Saturday night to Dallas, I’m sure the late Ms. Franklin will be more than proud.

— Richard Oliver



American Landscapes with Lonnie Holley

Moody Performance Hall (April 19)

Published April 26, 2019


Artist Lonnie Holley

DallasLonnie Holley is a man of deep introspection. That much was immediately clear as he ambled onto the stage of the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art on April 19. His soft, thoughtful demeanor coupled with bold, ornate jewelry suggested a persona that was rooted in art, creativity, and global contemplation.

Holley’s body of work spans the genres of music and visual art, with each medium informing the other as he draws upon 69 years of life experiences as an African-American man—born the seventh of 27 children in the Jim Crow era south. While visiting the DMA as a musical feature in collaboration with the SOLUNA International Music and Arts Festival, a piece of Holley African-American folk art, The Journey: From Africa to America (1983) was concurrently on display in a DMA exhibit called America Will Be!

The performance, titled American Landscapes, was an improvisatory exploration into the diversity of life that has shaped the meaning of culture throughout the American continents. Joined by his musical partner Dave Eggar, classical cellist and four-time GRAMMY Award-nominee, the set is described as something that will never exist again. And with the aid of SMU’s Meadows Pointe Ensemble, the school’s premier interdisciplinary improvisational ensemble, the ephemeral glimmer of this project was certainly a treat to catch.

Each piece is a complexly simple—Holley lays a foundation of warbling, wet chords on his synth as Eggar improvises virtuosic figures, bowed, plucked, and strummed on his cello with sympathetic affection for the message of the song. The Point Ensemble’s contribution offered a worldly, folksy soundscape on several movements, with woodwind instruments, upright bass, and softly beaten drums. Holley’s songs have titles like “From the Beginning to the End to the Beginning” and “A Border is Just a Line Between Two Spaces,” with messages that are haunting and hopeful. One improvised number questioned, “Is It Really a Good Friday?” fittingly for the holiday weekend.

The one constant throughout was the soulful wailing of Holley’s vocals. His tone is weathered and mournful over a stream of consciousness kind of lyricism. The Q&A that followed the performance brought a similar depth in thought. Holley’s perspective on life, mankind, and the future of the earth is steadfastly meta and, in its own way, encouraging. His approach toward sculpture—using found objects and pieces of the earth; and his approach toward music—free, through-composed, and improvisational—are manifestations of this perspective, where he sees life and beauty in just about anything.

— Richard Oliver




Caravan (dance-specific review)

Majestic Theatre, Dallas

Published April 26, 2019


Photo: Osamu Inoue
Rennie Harris

In addition to bringing internationally renowned artists to Dallas audiences, the SOLUNA festival also invites a renewed sense of multi-disciplinary collaboration. Cultivators of the month-long event push classical music genres into the contemporary world by integrating artistic visual elements to produce an immersive audience experience—providing a visceral, sensorial product. One outstanding example of this interdisciplinary exchange occurred in Caravan: A Revolution on the Road at the Majestic Theatre. Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective joined forces with choreographer Rennie Harris and multi-media artist Andrew F. Scott to produce an electric display of racial tension, the African American experience, and political injustice.

TheaterJones music contributor Richard Oliver described Blanchard’s fusion of jazz, R&B, funk, and soul as “a polyrhythmic drive that was energetic and appropriately dark.” These themes were only exemplified in Bessie Award winner Rennie Harris’ tense, aggressive choreography. Through the movement language of hip-hop and street dance, the Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater Company captured the swinging syncopation of their musical counterparts through weighted stomps and repetitive unison phrasework. In matching the tone of Blanchard and the E-Collective, the dancers’ dynamic qualities were greatly varied—embracing the heavy beats and dark tone of the first section with explosive flips and creeping pathways, before shifting into desperate, elastic contortions that mirrored the dreamy piano solos of the second half.

Harris’ company transformed along with the sounds from the musicians—embodying the improvisational nature of this jazzy style with accents of acrobatic tricks. Hip-hop flavor flooded the first half of the evening as dancers threw themselves into head-spins, breakdancing windmills, and precarious inversions and handstands. Behind these jaw-dropping feats, Scott’s bold, mesmerizing projections complimented the zealous sounds with morphing lighting patterns and textured images. Each artistic component offered a fully integrated, co-dependent portrayal of moods, themes, and concepts in perpetual shift.

The second half of the night displayed the company’s theatrical expertise as the sound scores expanded to include mysterious piano trills, brooding guitar solos, and chaotic, distorted clashes amongst instruments. Adjusting to the shift, the movers entered the stage with wobbly knees, waving arms, and fluid moonwalk glides. Progressing into a more narrative-based exploration of space, one dancer used his apparently boneless structure to contort into frenzied bends with stressed facial and hand expressions. As if bound by an invisible force, the dancer used jagged elbows and hyperextended shoulder hits in an attempt to free himself from the visually implied set of racial, social, and political injustices.

Hypnotizing and immersive, the performance demonstrated a seamless integration of various artistic forms—all bound by a central force; driving them towards an exploration of shared experiences.

Emily Sese




Fabio Luisi Conducts the Dallas Symphony

April 18-19

Meyerson Symphony Center

Published April 19


One of the most anticipated events of Soluna was the debut conducting performance by Fabio Luisi as the Dallas Symphony's Music Director Designate. His program, which included William Grant Still's Poem for Orchestra, Frank Martin's Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and Strings, Franz Schmidt's The Book with Seven Seals, and Beethoven Symphony No. 7. J. Robin Coffelt said the concert was filled with surprises.

Read the review here.




Rising Excellence

DBDT: Encore!

Moody Performance Hall

Published April 19


Cheryl Callon reviewed the spring performance by Dallas Black Dance Theatre's second company, DBDT: Encore! The performance featured work by My’kal J. Stromile, Floyd McLean, Jr., Katarzyna Sharpetowska and a world premiere from Soluna collaborator Rennie Harris.

Read the review here.




Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields

Moody Performance Hall (April 15)

Published April 18, 2019


Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields as performed at the Soluna Festival at Moody Performance Hall



“You didn’t dare quit, because it was something to have a job at eight cents an hour.”

Used in Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Anthracite Fields, that line, among many others, was excerpted and adapted from a film interview with a former breaker boy. The term breaker boy refers to a coal-mining worker, usually a young boy, whose job was to separate impurities from the coal by hand. It was thought to be among the greatest threats to life and limb for workers on the site.

Wolfe’s piece, which had its Texas premiere Monday night at the Moody Performance Hall as a part of the SOLUNA International Music and Arts Festival, brings the chilling reality of this facet of American history into stark attainability. Originally commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, it is an exploration into the dark and dusty substance that fueled the country’s rise to become a world power in the early 20th century, and the associated loss of human life that shades the margins of the bigger picture.

Monday’s performance brought together Verdigris, the Dallas-based vocal ensemble, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, a six-piece instrumental ensemble based out of New York. Bang on a Can performs the piece regularly with Wolfe on tours. The 24 voices and six instrumentalists, conducted with sweeping waves of pathos by Verdigris’ Artistic Director Sam Brukhman, met with brilliant cohesion, augmented by poignant video and imagery coordinated by projection designer Jeff Sugg.

Wolfe’s oratorio, comprised of five movements, effectively blends elements of rock, folk, and classical music. She favors sparse textures, with haunting chants in the vocals that move freely from thin, dark droning lines to rich, full harmonies. She uses the tense relationship between the voices and the avant-garde instrumentation—electric and acoustic guitars, cello, bass, piano, synth, drums and percussion, bicycle wheels and tin cans—to create a soundscape that sits perfectly on the line between aurally intoxicating and upsetting.

It works flawlessly throughout, but particularly in the first movement, “Foundation,” where a list of names—mine workers who had been killed or injured according to the Pennsylvania Mining Accidents Index 1869-1916—is chanted by the choir. This tonal tension between choir and instruments also drives the final movement of the work, “Appliances,” with a hidden sense of guilt. In this movement, the choir recites all of the ways coal and coal-powered electricity manifests itself in our daily lives, from “bake a cake” to “vacuum the rug.” It eventually explodes into discordant chaos, before ending with a dark, introspective hymn, punctuated by a faint whistle from the choir.

Five years ago, the subject of coal-mining may not have been on anyone else’s radar. When Wolfe composed Anthracite Fields in 2014, she couldn’t have known that just a few short years later, the same subject matter would be at the center of one of the country’s most contentious presidential elections. Donald Trump’s promises to resurrect the coal-mining industry has incited fervent debate throughout the country, with some camps rooted in economic tradition and others pushing for more environmentally and ethically progressive alternatives. Now, in 2019, her work is fittingly positioned in the middle of that debate, with the potential to fundamentally affect the way we think about the future of energy and industry.

In a New York Times article about the piece, Wolfe said of the president’s actions, “It feels to me like a kind of romanticization of coal miners—and that doesn’t feel good.”

Given the extensive amount of research and first-hand exploration that went into the development of her work, I am inclined to believe she has something useful to offer with that statement—a new way of approaching the issue. Perhaps, here in Dallas, we may take our cue from Monday’s stunningly beautiful performance.

— Richard Oliver




Mariachi and Mayan Night

Moody Performance Hall (April 14)

Published April 18, 2019

Photo: Mariachi Rosas Divinas
Mariachi Rosas Divinas


As a part of the SOLUNA lineup, Mariachi and Mayan Night at Moody Performance Hall presented a colorful collection of works by Mexican composers and enriching performances of traditional mariachi music. It was an ample collaboration between the New Philharmonic Orchestra of Irving and Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico, featuring Booker T. Washington High School’s Mariachi Pegaso and Mariachi Las Rosas Divinas.

As a genre, the distinctive instrumentation and style of mariachi brings a romantic edge to the depiction of Mexican culture. Wide-open chords vigorously strummed in guitar and vihuela, set against smooth stings and bright trumpets, deliver a lively and engaging depiction of the Mexican countryside.

As a pre-concert treat, Mariachi Las Rosas Divinas set an energetic mood in Moody’s atrium. The brilliance of their playing and powerful vocals was matched by their vibrant charro outfits, all met warmly by an audience that was diverse and enthusiastic.

Later in the show, Mariachi Pegaso also gave a thrilling performance. The high school troupe demonstrated a marked command of the genre with an energy brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation.

The more classical performances, sadly, lacked that vim and vigor. The NPOI opened the show with Blas Galindo’s Sones de Mariachi, composed in 1940. The work itself is replete with references to the mariachi genre, as the name suggests, but in execution, the group falls recurrently out of sync and out of tune. Under Dr. Sergio Espinosa’s baton, the tempo is just a hair rushed and infrequent.

On José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango, however, the orchestra found an effective cohesion that provided a lush layer of rhythm for the dancers of Ballet Folklórico to perform against. Juan José Lopéz Rodriguez’s choreography was smooth and authentic, again, referencing the idyllic, folksy stylization of the Mexican countryside.

The second half of the concert was devoted to selections from Silvestre Revueltas’ film score to La noche de los mayas. With choreography by Favian Herrera, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico’s Artistic Advisor, the work culminates in a beautiful story of the collapse of Mayan civilization and culture. With bright, ornate costuming, the dancers move through expressive modern and classic ballet practices to convey themes of love, family, friendship, community, confusion, and tragedy.

Ultimately, Mariachi and Mayan Night successfully evoked an appreciation for the cultural and artistic contributions of Mexico. Bringing out a fresh and eager audience, the performance successfully furthered SOLUNA’s aims. However, I can only imagine that a tighter orchestra would lift the program’s overall impact exponentially.

— Richard Oliver




1812 Overture and Bronfman Plays Liszt

Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Meyerson Symphony Center

Published April 14, 2019


Robin Coffelt reviews the DSO's performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and pianist Yefim Bronfman on Liszt's Concerto No. 2 in A-major, but was struck by the rarely heard performance of Rachmaninoff's The Bells, featuring the Dallas Symphony Chorus. The performance was conducted by James Gaffigan.

The review is here




Voodoo Jazz

Voices of Change at Arts Mission Oak Cliff

Published April 13, 2019


Gregory Sullivan Isaacs reviewed the "Voodoo Jazz" concert from the invaluable group Voices of Change, featuring works by Georgy Sviridov, Toshio Hosokawa, and Julio Racine. 

You can read the review here.





Majestic Theatre, Dallas

Published April 12, 2019


Photo: Henry Adebonojo
Terence Blanchard


Richard Oliver reviews the premiere of the collaboration between Oscar-nominated jazz great Terence Blanchard, street dance choreographer Rennie Harris, and local visual artist Andrew F. Scott.

You can read the review here.




The Language of Nature

Published April 6, 2019

Featuring Ellen Fullman's Long String Instrument, artist/musician James Talambas, visual artist Sheryl Anaya, and musicians of the Dallas Symphony. Anaya, Fullman and Talambas intertwine their respective mediums to compose a work that evokes our internal and collective rhythmic nature. Corporal cells of delicately interwoven fibers are suspended above a fluid performance, pairing Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument with a DSO chamber ensemble, creating an immersive web of dissonant light and consonant shadow. The event happens Wednesday, April 24 in the Boedecker building, a warehouse next to the Cedars Union, at the corner of S. Griffin and Ervay streets in the Cedars area of downtown Dallas.

In January, there was a preview of the instrument, with Talambas giving a sample of its sound. We captured that in the video below, which runs 4:38. Look for more coverage to come.

— Mark Lowry





Twelfth Night

Dallas Theater Center

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre

Published April 6, 2019


Photo: Karen Almond/Dallas Theater Center
The cast of Twelfth Night at Dallas Theater Center


The Dallas Theater Center's production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, directed by Kevin Moriarty, is one of the Soluna events. Brian Wilson reviews the production, which happens in the Potter Rose Performance Hall in the Wyly Theatre. Runs through April 28.

The review is here.




Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Sibelius Violin Concerto

Meyerson Symphony Center

Published April 6, 2019


Photo: Marco Borggreve
Conductor John Storgårds


Read Gregory Sullivan Isaacs' review of the concert, which also featured Haydn's Symphony No. 94, "Surprise," and Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5. The concert was conducted by John Storgårds, and the guest artist was violinist Augustin Hadelich.

The review is here.




Reflections and Repercussions featuring Aki Onda

Crow Collection of Asian Art of the University of Texas at Dallas

Published April 6, 2019

Photo: Brian Whar
Aki Onda


Kicking off the 2019 SOLUNA: International Music & Arts Festival on April 4 was a beautifully challenging performance by New York-based artist and composer Aki Onda.

Titled Reflections and Repercussions, Onda’s interdisciplinary work explores the complex relationships of sound, light, and shadow through the use of percussive instruments, lamps, spotlights, elements of glass and foil, and electronic musical treatment. The performance also featured Queens-based vocal artist Samita Sinha.

Taking inspiration from Jacob Hashimoto Nuvole’s installation at the newly renamed Crow Museum of Asian Art of the University of Texas at Dallas (the performance was held at the Crow’s downtown Dallas home), Onda’s artistry is characterized by a pervasive and haunting hum. Perhaps it was the mellow vibrations of balls on an overturned bass drum, or the shifting weight of his black silhouette revolving around the room as he swung a bright, white light around his body. Or, maybe it was a combination of these effects that left a lingering sentiment of the ethereal hanging amongst the delicate paper circles of Nuvole’s installation.

The hour-long performance waxed and waned with emotive depth as Onda played with the interrelationship of light and dark, casting pulsing lights against golden foil blankets and delicately shifting mirrors to pour their reflections of light across the ceiling and down the wall.

All of this occurred while his stirring real-time composition provided a poignant and engaging soundscape underneath. His use of microphones, speakers, and thick reverb augmented the glimmer of wood brushing against cymbals, and his thoughtful placement of these electronic elements often yielded unnerving sine waves.

Sinha’s vocal addition was clear and expressive. Using a tone that was virtually free of vibrato, she did not only sing, but she played her voice as one plays a Theremin—each gentle gesticulation in her wrist denoted a slight rise or fall in pitch. Vocalizing with a laser-like care over half steps and harmonic seconds, she provided a beautifully emotive layer that was at once troubling and comforting throughout the performance.

Reflections and Repercussions was a perfect way to start off this year’s festival. Embodying many of the themes and goals of SOLUNA, this performance was a thought-provoking collaboration of artistic media, designed around a space that is culturally expansive and beautiful.

— Richard Oliver



» You can see the complete festival guide here, which has the DSO and its partners events, and you can search by venue, organization and type of event. TheaterJones also has a full schedule in its Soluna Festival 2019 special section. See all of the entries in the special section by clicking SOLUNA FESTIVAL 2019 in the black banner at the top of the page. Thanks For Reading

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