Adams, Josefowicz and DSO offer full-tilt performances of 20th-century fare

Fri Feb 01, 2019 at 12:00 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

John Adams conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in his music Thursday night at Meyerson Symphony Center.

Composer John Adams conducted his own music Thursday night with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Meyerson Symphony Center, making a powerful case for two of his most well-known works in his DSO debut.

His succinct Short Ride in a Fast Machine, four minutes of minimalist energy, has become one of the most frequently performed orchestral works by a living composer since its premiere in 1986. With the composer on the podium, the Dallas Symphony presented a devoted, intensely energetic performance that climbed, in a consistent, rising wave of orchestral color, toward its thrilling, climactic trumpet flourish. The perfect marriage of content and structure, along with the irresistible, quick surge, has made the work an appealing curtain raiser.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz joined Adams and the orchestra for Adams’ Violin Concerto of 1993. The soloist applied a dark tone and seamless line to a melody that, in the first movement, floats over a constantly upward striving orchestral accompaniment; the orchestra continued to respond with appropriate fervor, joining as the mood climbed to a plateau of intensity. 

Leila Josefowicz. Photo: Chris Lee

The second movement, titled “Body through which the dream flows,” gave Josefowicz a chance to show off her fluid, singing tone, creating a dreamlike aura in keeping with the title.

The final movement represents one of the high points of the minimalist movement, demanding unprecedented physical commitment from the soloist, and ideally creating a hypnotic, primeval response in the listener. And this was the case Thursday night. Josefowicz poured herself into the athletic demands of her role, while the orchestra continued to give the composer the respect of zealous attention to detail and precision of execution. The result was a memorable experience by any standards, and a justification of Adams’ richly colorful, high-adrenalin brand of minimalism.

After intermission, Adams and the orchestra turned their attention to works of Debussy and Respighi for a program drawn entirely from twentieth-century music. Dallas Symphony principal harpist Emily Levin was featured as soloist for Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane for harp and strings, giving a delicately expressive performance equal in quality to any guest artist. Conductor Adams, the Dallas Symphony strings, and soloist Levin achieved a perfect balance, with the harp part gently etched over the backdrop of strings.

Adams and the orchestra closed with Respighi’s Feste Romane (Roman Festivals). The Meyerson provides a fine acoustical atmosphere for this orchestral showpiece, including the offstage brass and the constant array of colorful orchestration strategies (including a mandolin solo). Flashy gestures abound, though meaningful musical content is sparse, here; Adams and the orchestra played the entertainment value of this massive tone picture to the hilt, winning a predictable roaring ovation.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Meyerson Symphony Center.; 214-692-0203.

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