Van Zweden Galvanizes Dallas Symphony!
THIS WEEK IN TEXAS
Jaap Van Zweden assumed the music directorship of the Dallas Symphony (DSO) and musical life in Dallas has not been the same since.
Van Zweden is not your Hollywood central casting conductor – in fact if you met him on the street you might mistake him for a wrestler or a weight-lifter – but conducting has less to do with how you look than what you can do with an orchestra.
Van Zweden is obviously a driven man and he expects that same drive from his players. At the concert I attended, there was no one sitting back and taking it easy. Instead of the lazy, half-hearted bowing one sees so often in string sections, every man and woman was bowing as if their lives depended on it. Not since Sir Georg Solti commanded a podium have I seen such intensity from a conductor.
Van Zweden’s message to the players? Music is serious stuff - I stayed up all night to figure this piece out and the least you can do is practice every waking hour until you are able to play it perfectly! Then we will start to work on interpretation and phrasing.
As it happens, earlier in his career, Van Zweden did play under Solti and other great conductors when he was concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recently voted the number one orchestra in the world by a group of respected luminaries. Van Zweden learned the repertoire as a player in a world-class orchestra and he also learned what it takes to make music at the highest level. He has clearly brought that attitude to Dallas and the DSO players seem to like it a lot.
What I heard at the Myerson Symphony Center was remarkable by any standard and as a glimpse of things to come, it was tremendously exciting.
The concert was a somewhat belated New Year’s celebration, loosely modeled on the annual event by the Vienna Philharmonic broadcast worldwide. This means music by the Strauss family, and it also means finishing up with the likes of the Blue Danube Waltz and the Radetzky March. To give the occasion an American flavor, Van Zweden ended the evening with Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, and earlier had presented Leroy Anderson’s somewhat dated novelty piece, The Typewriter.
Stokowski’s Orchestration of Pictures Rivals Ravel
The tour de force of the evening was Leopold Stokowski’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition. There are those who still wonder whether Stokowski actually wrote the many transcriptions attributed to him. There is strong evidence that much of this work was really done by Lucien Cailliet, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Stokowski era (1912-1936). The fact is that this orchestration is a fine alternative to the famous Ravel arrangement of the Mussorgsky original.
One of the devices Mussorgsky used to link the ‘pictures’ (by the composer’s friend Victor Hartmann) depicted in the piece is the ‘promenade” - walking music, if you will - as the visitor strolls from one exhibit to another in the gallery. The piece begins with just such a promenade and in the Ravel version, it is given to a solo trumpet. It is one of the best-known passages in classical music.
The Stokowski version starts quite differently, with rich and dark sonorities in the string section (with some reinforcement from an organ), and in the performance by Van Zweden and the DSO one was taken aback by the weight and opulence of the sound. This was the special quality of the hall yielding to a conductor skilled at eliciting the sound he wants from an orchestra. The performance went on from there to surprise and thrill us with playing of razor-sharp precision and a vast range of color.
Curiosities abound in Stokowski’s version of Pictures. Nearly always, Stokowski chose instruments and combinations of instruments far removed from the Ravel version. In several sections of the score, however, he seems to be saying - ‘Ravel’s choice of instrument was so inspired and so right I couldn’t possibly do better’; ergo, both the Ravel and Stokowski orchestrations feature a solo saxophone in 'Il Vecchio Castello' and a solo trumpet in 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.'
Van Zweden, DSO & Myerson Symphony Center - Triumphant Trio!
I look forward to returning to Dallas for more music-making from Jaap Van Zweden and his newly-galvanized Dallas Symphony. I’ll certainly have a lot more to say about Van Zweden, but I can’t emphasize enough that Dallas has one of the world’s great concert halls.
There are only a handful of concert halls in North America that come anywhere close to the quality of the Myerson Symphony Center. What makes it great? In a few words - the sound jumps off the stage and involves the listener. The sound enhances the timbre of every instrument in the orchestra and makes them sound well together. It helps too that the Myerson looks so good inside and out, and that you can get a good meal there!
Later this year, the Myerson will be joined by the new Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre just across the way. Within the span of a few blocks, one can also enjoy the treasures of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.
This is the Dallas Arts District, a work in progress for many years but now coming to completion. Big D is about to become bigger and better than ever.
From Triumphant Trios to Cuatro Leches at La Duni – Dallas Delights!
It is not in the Arts District, but La Duni, a Latin Café on Mckinney - where the Cuatro Leches cake alone would keep me coming back - is one of the places we always visit on our return trips to Dallas, where we lived several years.
There is much more to savor at La Duni, however, than cake; for example, several dozen kinds of coffee, and a wide variety of amazing tortas (sandwiches), including our current favorite - the 'Choripan' with Argentinian sausage, avocado and manchego cheese stuffed in a fresh popover and served with yucca fries!
La Duni’s McKinney Street location opened in 2001 with founders Espartaco and Dunia Borga at the helm, and there are now two other locations in Dallas. Word on the street – actually, from one of the La Duni staff members – is that within a year or so, there will be a La Duni in Austin. Great news for Austinites, like us!
Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar; Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music; and Stokowski (Spring 2009), all available at http://www.amazon.com.