Classical Note: DSO’s Distinctive ‘ReMix’

Violinist and co-concertmaster, Nathan Olson.
Violinist and co-concertmaster, Nathan Olson.

The Dallas Symphony deserves plaudits for the most interesting classical music event of last week: the “ReMix” concert at Dallas Performance Hall in the Arts District, just down the street from the orchestra’s regular venue at Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

Symphony orchestras around the world are striving mightily to retain relevance and build new audiences, and this concert, performed on Friday and Saturday, represented a worthy local effort. The open, embracing design of the venue obviously contrasts with the deliberate opulence of the Meyerson, creating a more democratic aura, as did the free drinks and hors d’oeuvres, which patrons were allowed to carry into the hall. Informal lobby events before and after the concert influenced a festival atmosphere that underlined the significance of the main concert.

The concert itself, under the baton of guest conductor Tito Muñoz, offered a distinctive flavor often lacking in the stodgy repertoire of that has weighed down the orchestra’s classical subscription series in recent seasons. Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, widely recognized as a twentieth-century masterpiece but largely unfamiliar to the broader audience, provided a scintillating curtain-raiser, followed by an entrancing performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons (as arranged for violin solo and strings by Leonid Desyatnikov), with co-concertmaster  as soloist. Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony picked up the seasonal theme and brought the full orchestra on stage for the first time, resulting in an audience-to-performer ratio of about 6:1—considerably better than the faculty-student ratio at most endowed universities.

My colleague Scott Cantrell at the Dallas Morning News has already raised the one really uncomfortable issue concerning the evening, and it’s one that should be openly addressed by all performing arts groups—and particularly by classical music organizations. At Friday night’s performance, an artificial respirator introduced a constant, very audible noise throughout the concert, definitely interfering with the ability of the rest of the audience to enjoy the wonderful music-making. While anyone would recognize the right of persons with special needs to enjoy live concerts, the right of one person should not trump the enjoyment and ability to focus of 500 other patrons.

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The Fort Worth Symphony’s regular classical subscription series brought the return of 2005 Cliburn Competition Silver Medalist Joyce Yang for a performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting at Bass Performance Hall. Yang’s impressive ability to bring a rare sense of creativity to a wide repertoire here demonstrated that ability with Gershwin’s jazz-inspired concerto; early-twentieth-century Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Second Symphony, which I believe has not previously been played in Fort Worth, continued the orchestra’s characteristically adventurous programming.

Unfortunately, the orchestra’s recently announced 2014-15 season, while containing a number of interesting and contemporary items, has signaled a bit of retreat from the brave programming offered during the current series. Hopefully, in the long run, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra can hold on to its worthy record of fresh and innovative programming.

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Competition buffs will want to drop by Caruth Auditorium at SMU for the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s International Piano Competition on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; all events, including master classes led by SMU faculty members Joaquin Achucarro and Carol Leone, are free and open to the public. Schedule details are posted here.