Conductor Martin, soloist Li wrap DSO season on a high note

Sun May 28, 2023 at 1:03 pm
By J. Robin Coffelt
Jaime Martin conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Saturday night. Photo: Sylvia Elfazon

This weekend’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts, the last of the regular concert season, presented a diverse program with an exciting young soloist.

Bookending the program are Ligeti’s Concert Românesc and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. The former is a DSO premiere, and for those unfamiliar with the work, it might not be what is expected from those who only know the Ligeti music used (without the composer’s permission) in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Concert Românesc is more maximalist than minimalist, with multiple nods to the Romanian folk tunes that so interested Ligeti. There are homages to Ligeti’s predecessor Bartók, as well, with a quote from the elder composer’s Romanian Dances for piano(or from the same folk song, at any rate) and ample “Bartók pizzicati” (a technique in which the string is snapped hard rather than plucked).

Guest conductor Jaime Martín coaxed terrific sounds out of the orchestra—richly shaped phrases in the opening passages that were thoughtful without being fussy, and tight ensemble in the later rip-roaringly fast sections. Co-concertmaster Nathan Olson delighted with warm, nimble solos in the Romani style, and other outstanding solos were delivered by Meredith Kufchak, principal viola, and Gregory Raden, principal clarinet.

Wrapping up the evening was Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. This piece, far more familiar to most listeners than the Ligeti, is one of Bartók’s most popular pieces, with good reason: it’s readily accessible and highly melodic. Like the Ligeti, it capitalizes on the composer’s interest in eastern European folk tunes—both these composers, in fact, did field work gathering Romanian and Hungarian folk songs. Martín, conducting without a baton, brought forth terrific sounds from the orchestra, which at the end of the season is sounding particularly tight and focused.

George Li performed works of Liszt and Ligeti with the DSO Saturday night. Photo: Sylvia Elfazon

The centerpiece of the program asks us to rewind by a century or so, to the nineteenth century concert halls. Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is a warhorse, but well-played, as it was Saturday evening, it still has much to offer all but the most jaded listener. 

The young soloist George Li played a commanding and technically impressive of the concerto, mostly eschewing the banging that tempts so many of his contemporaries in this repertoire. The orchestra led by Martín supported Li ably. Seldom has the triangle been employed with more subtlety or musicality than it was by Principal Percussionist George Nickson Saturday evening.

George Li performed Liszt’s La Campanella as an encore Saturday night.

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday.

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