The Classical Note: Does Dallas Need an Additional Orchestral Ensemble?

The question of the week in local classical music circles: does Dallas need an additional orchestral ensemble?

On one hand, the Dallas Symphony has retreated into disturbingly unadventurous programming for the 2012-13 season, and the need for an orchestra—whether it’s the DSO or some other ensemble—that’s willing to explore new ground and move forward is self-evident. Conversely, one might well argue that, for the time being, available resources should be directed toward rebuilding and enhancing the Dallas Symphony’s presence as an innovative, intellectual presence in the community.

For some music lovers, the answer lies in the newly organized Dallas Chamber Symphony, which will debut Tuesday night at the just-completed 750-seat City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. The group’s artistic director, Texas-born, Peabody-trained Richard McKay, will conduct a 35-member ensemble in a concert including Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, the Suite from Falla’s El Amor Brujo, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. According to executive director Zachariah Stoughton, the organization’s as-yet undisclosed annual budget will, for the time being, be devoted to paying the orchestra’s fully professional musical personnel, who will be hired on a per-service, non-contractual basis. The group’s administrative personnel are currently working on an entirely volunteer basis, according to Stoughton.

For now, the direction of the orchestra seems both promising and a little perplexing. The opening concert, while made up of indisputably great music, represents exactly the sort of safe programming that makes the current season of the Dallas Symphony so frustrating. Later in the season, the inclusion of two silent film classics with live orchestral accompaniment looks like a worthy and intriguing project. The inclusion of a piano solo recital and a string quartet concert are a little puzzling, however, as is the inclusion of works for full orchestra such as Brahms’ Fourth Symphony—which seems to contradict the chamber orchestra function of the ensemble. How well all of this works, and how well it goes over with area donors and concert-goers remains to be seen.

*****

From where I sit, the high pointof the past week arrived with the performance of American composer Jennifer Hidgon’s blue cathedral by the Fort Worth Symphony and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya Saturday night at Bass Performance Hall. The thirteen-minute tone poem presents a remarkable intersection of the personal and the epic. It frankly memorializes Higdon’s love for a deceased younger brother, while drawing on a monumental span of orchestral colors. While structurally impeccable, blue cathedral creates a sense of rhapsodic, intuitive emotion; and, whether by conscious design or by sheer instinct on the part of composer, blue cathedral is both intellectually satisfying and immediately appealing.

The inclusion of the work on a program with Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 5 epitomized the admirably eclectic programming practiced by the Fort Worth Symphony at a time when the Dallas Symphony has committed itself to one of its least adventurous seasons in many years.

Photo: Dallas Chamber Symphony conductor Richard McKay (via)

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