It’s music to the ears: the Dallas Chamber Symphony is launching its ninth season, beginning with a concert at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District October 19. It is the first concert the orchestra has performed for a live audience in a concert hall since February 2020.
“The audience adds so much to any performance. It really makes a difference in how people play. It makes the performance so much more fun,” Richard McKay, Dallas Chamber Symphony’s Artistic Director and Conductor, said.
The orchestra has been active during the pandemic, recording an album at Moody Performance Hall and performing its DSC Live! outreach concerts in open-air and public spaces. Dallas Chamber Symphony invested in its music education efforts by creating a new web site for TechNotes, an educational program the orchestra developed in 2013. The new online programs are in line with the state’s TEKS objectives.
“We’ve digitized a lot of our curriculum. There are video lessons and interactive activities on the web site now,” McKay said. “Teachers can log in and see various lesson plans. They can see demonstration videos on ways they might teach various concepts.”
The orchestra is opening its new season with a program originally planned for May 2020. The 90-minute concert features music by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn. “I love all three pieces on this program because they are kind of a tight-knit community of Romantic German composers roughly from the same school,” McKay said.
The concert features Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op. 21 (1826) and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 (1851 revised version). Both works were written early in the composers’ careers. “These are very joyful works that really aren’t representative of the difficulties, particularly the psychological difficulties, that both Mendelssohn and Schumann would have had later in their careers. You get this joyful effervescence from both of them and a lot of innovation with respect to orchestration,” McKay said.
The concert also includes Brahm’s Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (1887), his final orchestral work. “And then you have Brahms, the elder, kind of right in-between who would have held both of those composers in high regard, similarly influenced by piano but writing many, many years later in an ultra-Romantic language,” McKay said.
Brahms wrote the piece to reconcile with his estranged friend, violinist Joseph Joachim after Brahms became entangled in Joachim’s divorce proceedings. “Brahms felt some guilt for his involvement in that violinist’s divorce and attestation to some things that had happened. So yes, this was written for him to really make amends for that episode,” McKay said.
The Dallas Chamber Symphony’s performance of the work will feature concertmaster Kazuhiro Takagi and cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi. Because Castro-Balbi is now a professor and director at the Dr. Bobbie Bailey School of Music at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, this will also be his farewell performance.
“Kazuhiro and Jesús are close colleagues and close friends, and so this is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate one last time because they have been integral to the growth of the orchestra for the last few years,” McKay said.
Takagi is based in Japan and throughout the pandemic, he navigated complicated testing protocols and quarantine requirements to continue working with the orchestra. “It’s a major commitment for all involved,” McKay said. “But he’s worth it to us. He’s a wonderful talent and he makes the orchestra better.”
Pandemic protocols will be in place at the concert. Musicians will be masked, and masks are recommended for the audience. “People are cautious right now. We’re just trying to keep it as simple and accommodating for as many people as possible,” McKay said.
The concerts of the 2021-2022 season reflect the orchestra’s development during the pandemic. The March 15 concert featuring Dmitri Shostakovich’s chamber symphonies will be recorded for a commercial album release. “That concert is an outlier because it is designed like an album,” McKay said. “I don’t think we’ve ever performed a single concert of music by one composer before so this will be new for us.”
The February 8 concert will pair Renaissance-inspired works by Samuel Barber and Vaughan Williams with Antonio Vivaldi’s Le quattro Stagioni, “The Four Seasons.” The April 26 concert features Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op 25, Ernest Bloch’s Suite Hébraïque and will conclude with Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 (1877).
“We just wanted to perform some works that would make some of the strength in our ensemble shine. And we wanted to perform some works that are at the top of the request list of our existing audience,” Mc Kay said. “We’re hoping that these concerts will invite our audience back to pieces that they find quite familiar, involve them in some of the work that we started during the pandemic with recording and continuing with Shostakovich, and we’re hoping that sets us up for what we hope will be an entirely normal 2022-2023 season.”
With strategic planning, a strong team, and investment in recording and information technologies, McKay is excited about the orchestra’s future. “I think the next year or two look pretty bright for us,” McKay said. “I do think we’re going emerge a very different company in a good way from the pandemic. As hard as it might seem to call the pandemic a blessing, I think we’ve done everything we can to call it that.”
Learn more: https://www.dcsymphony.org/