Two compelling premieres and a French favorite at the Dallas Symphony

Fri Feb 23, 2024 at 1:47 pm
By William McGinney
Violinist Karen Gomyo and trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth were soloists in the world premiere of Xi Wang’s YEAR 2020 with Fabio Luisi and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Thursday night. Photo: Sylvia Elzafon

On Thursday night, Meyerson Symphony Hall hosted two premieres by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director Fabio Luisi.

The evening began with Flare by DSO composer-in-residence Sophia Jani, heard in its Dallas premiere. Flare is marked by kaleidoscopic, sustained harmonies punctuated by percussive reports, all building to a climactic oscillation between two chords before subsiding toward the end of the piece.

The subtle fades between the different instrumental choirs were deftly executed by the orchestra under Luisi, further animating the texture and complementing the sustained harmonies. “Poetically minimalist” is how Jani describes her approach to composition, and that characterization readily applies to the prolonged sonorities of Flare.

The evening’s centerpiece offered the world premiere of YEAR 2020 by Dallas-area composer Xi Wang. Subtitled ‘Concerto for Violin, Trumpet and Orchestra,” the performance featured Karen Gomyo and Tine Thing Helseth respectively, as soloists.

In the program notes, Wang described YEAR 2020 as reflecting the chaotic mix of feelings prompted by the Covid pandemic and the tumultuous events and circumstances that stemmed from it. YEAR 2020 is scored for a reduced orchestra and saw Tine Thing Helseth situated in the choir loft above the orchestra for much of the performance, while Karen Gomyo stood at the front of the stage in the usual soloist position.

Sonically, YEAR 2020 proceeded like a dialogue between extreme emotions, alternating between lyrical melodies (that Wang associates with love and peace) carried by Gomyo’s violin. Those themes contrast with the more dissonant, declamatory statements by Helseth’s trumpet that suggest anger and fear. Each soloist was backed by their corresponding instrumental section in the orchestra that mirrored the gestures of the soloists, occasionally adding melodic echoes, while the percussion and winds contributed evocative atmosphere and occasional rhythmic punctuation.

As the dialogue continued, the musical extremes steadily became more similar, at which point the audience noticed that Helseth had unexpectedly joined Gomyo on stage. Their respective lines continued blending until they were essentially sounding in unison over sonorous accompaniment by the orchestra, suggesting a reconciliation of the two vying soloists.

YEAR 2020 was received with a standing ovation, prompting Helseth and Gomyo to return for an encore. Pianist Gabriel Sanchez accompanied the duo in a performance of the Prelude from Dmitry Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano.

Rounding out the program was the Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”) by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Under Luisi, the orchestra negotiated Saint-Saëns’s spectacular showpiece for orchestra and organ with aplomb. but the focus was the organ at the hands of Bradley Hunter Welch; indeed, the physical presence of the instrument made it impossible to ignore, but Welch delivered sonically, both with the delicate accompaniment he provided to the strings in the Poco adagio and, of course, with the full organ power unleashed.

Curiously, the Allegro moderato “scherzo” of the second movement was taken at breakneck speed, to the point that it sounded more rapid than the Presto of the trio. Similarly, the fugato portions of the Maestoso finale also sounded hectic and rushed, potentially undermining the majestic quality of the passage. The audience didn’t seem to mind, rewarding the piece and Welch with a standing ovation just as they had for Gomyo and Helseth during the first half.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

One Response to “Two compelling premieres and a French favorite at the Dallas Symphony”

  1. Posted Mar 03, 2024 at 2:18 pm by Bettye Hicks

    Was completely caught up by the excellent portrayal of performance! The review made it a must for me to go experience that particular program.

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