Kim Noltemy, until recent years the Chief Operating and Communications Officer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops and Tanglewood, brought the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where she now presides as Ross Perot President & CEO, to Symphony Hall in a somewhat last-minute addition to a tour which will also include Woolsey Hall at Yale and Carnegie Hall. The Intelligencer first received notice of the concert 12 days ago and a re-request to review it a scant four hours before last night’s concert; further to matters of presentation and promotion, the handout contained no history of the DSO, which began its twice interrupted run in 1900. Much of its current fame and status results from the I. M. Pei Myerson Hall with its powerful Fiske organ.
Noltemy, who alone among managers of major orchestras kept the concerts coming during the worst Covid year, and generously invited the inactive Metropolitan Opera players to collaborate, held forth from the main aisle with Boston friends while directing Dallas ones to the bar during intermission. How she nearly filled the hall for a concert none of us knew about in advance must pay tribute to her secret sauce. The BSO should invite her back for the open top administrative job. She wrote earlier:
It’s been more than a decade since the DSO played Carnegie Hall — and longer than that since it’s had an East Coast tour. This will be the first time audiences outside of Texas will hear the Dallas Symphony under the baton of music director Fabio Luisi. That’s why such a tour is important. Fabio has been working the Dallas Symphony sound. And I think that’s important that’s recognized beyond our city.
When DSO last played Carnegie Hall, then-conductor Jaap van Zweden made his debut there. Five years later, he announced he’d been hired away to direct the New York Philharmonic.
Fabio spent a lot of time at the Met Opera and he has a big fan base there. A lot of people will just want to see what he’s doing with the Dallas Symphony. And having arranged the date in New York, we thought we’d check and see if Symphony Hall was available. Since I come from Boston, a lot of our musicians are always asking a lot of questions about the acoustics of that hall.
According to reports, the DSO chose to tour with three works that they had prepared a week before the tour; Luisi and the players had been working on an entirely different program and a recording project at the same time. Thus, to these ears, the chestnuts, Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony felt only partially digested. Sonic evidence, though, gave the impression of fully savoring the opener.
Concertmaster Alexander Kerr made a theatrical entrance to signal tuning before Luisi arrived on the podium in elegant tails. What keeps me awake, DSO’s composer-in-residence Angélica Negrón’s short opener, constantly morphed and transformed its agreeable themes, coloring consummately. A light fanfare encouraged a string song in a bucolic mode with mild Latin sway in the strings (second violins placed antiphonally on the right), then gamelan-like bells commented and rang changes, the harp became vehement, and a tutti affirmation gave way to ostinato in the lower strings. Brasses tried out another idea, but upper strings returned to a sad theme, this time with the concurrence of the tuba. Overall, the seven mesmeric minutes passed with elegant sweep and no hard edges. After some soft wind interplay, the lullaby faded out with a hens-and-chicks moment from vibes, (or was it piano or electronics?).
Then came the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. After Garrick Ohlsson strode onto the stage, towering over Luisi, he took powerful aim, and with a pitcher’s slow windup. built the great opening crescendo of massive chords and bass. No waiting for the piano in this concerto. And of course, Ohlsson delivered with total authority a workout that can daunt lesser mortals [see my interview with him HERE]. His rapport with the orchestra, though, felt unfinished in the quiet, contemplative moments, and while Luisi seemed to be trying to draw expression from his players, employing cajoling fingers and a broad, almost liquid beat, they plodded except in the climaxes, failing to wring the juice out of the ripe fruit. Few smiles or many leaning-in moments did we observe, nor did the responsive audience elicit an encore.
Having heard Boston Philharmonic Youth Symphyony deliver Tchaikovsky Fifth to a rapt and pumped Symphony Hall a couple of weeks earlier [my review is HERE], with the young players following conductor Benjamin Zander’s diktat to sit on a single butt cheek, I could still hear their highly polished, avid, and urgent romanticism still resonating. Again, the DSO gave us bold climaxes, fortissimo outbursts, and instrumental clarity, (too much clarity in the antiphonal violin sections where we prefer a blend), doing much better with Tchaikovsky’s militancy than his tragic thwarted yearnings. The great horn solo in the second movement felt rushed, and the strings gave only nods to the portamenti that the BPYO reveled in. Time needed to be stretched more. This will probably happen tomorrow at Woolsley Hall and on Tuesday at Carnegie Hall if Luisi’s telegraphed intent prevails over his troops.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer