Lang Lang brings the flash and power in Dallas Symphony gala

Mon Sep 19, 2016 at 11:06 am
By J. Robin Coffelt
Lang Lang performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Friday night's gala concert. Photo: Kathy Bowman

Lang Lang performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Friday night’s gala concert. Photo: Kathy Bowman

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s annual season-opening gala began with a black-tie dinner for some of Dallas’s most well-heeled arts supporters, and continued with a concert led by Jaap van Zweden featuring superstar Lang Lang, followed by an after-party open to all ticketholders. The raucous post-concert event included a DJ and dancing, desserts, foot massages, a photo booth, and other treats.

The intermissionless program began with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Lang Lang tends to polarize listeners—while some gush about his formidable technique, others are put off by his overt theatricality and tendency toward interpretive excess.

The Chinese pianist’s performance provided fodder for both viewpoints. Lang Lang’s mastery of his instrument is inarguable with his blazingly fast octaves jaw-dropping. And even with his showy musical persona, few pieces lend themselves to flash more than Tchaikovsky’s iconic Romantic concerto.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director van Zweden brought out the strong musical foundation undergirding their star soloist’s flash and virtuosity. After an instant and prolonged standing ovation, Lang Lang returned an encore of Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” with his sizzling rendition compensating for the lack of orchestral colors.

Lang Lang may have been the main draw for many audience members, yet the real star of the evening turned out to be the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in their thrilling performance of selections from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

There were a few missteps with a bit too much bass drum here and a flubbed solo there. But for the most part, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was at the top of its game.

The strings, violins especially, exhibited remarkable clarity in “Juliet as a Young Girl” and the“Death of Tybalt” sections, while the brassy chords at the opening of “The Montagues and the Capulets” provided a glorious wall of sound. Guest principal flute Matthew Roitstein, associate principal of the Houston Symphony, displayed precise phrasing and crystalline tone, making himself a viable contender for the position recently vacated by Demarre McGill.

J. Robin Coffelt is a lecturer in the English department at the University of North Texas in Denton. She has been writing about the Dallas-Fort Worth classical music scene since 2013.

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