When one tallies the affect and effect of 100 years’ time, we can clearly say “Wow; how things have changed!” as much as we can say “Wow; some things never change!” My grandmother turns 100 this year. She lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, enjoyed radio–but also saw the advent of television; she watched men travel to the moon and neighborhood boys go off to Vietnam; she was always aware of “the computer”, and witnessed the rise of something called “the internet”. Yet even now she will tell you: “Only the spoon that stirs, knows the troubles that are in the pot!!…because some things never change!!!” (It sounds even better in Italian, btw.)
After ‘The King of the Symphony”, Franz Joseph Haydn, was born (1732) we could look back 100 years later and claim that had he died as early as Mozart, he would not be regarded as widely as he is today. The reason?? He did some of his best writing later in life. 100 years hence, we were gifted with the likes of Brahms and Bruckner, who similarly wrote works of masterpiece level in the latter portion of their lives. But while the harmonic language changed considerably over the course of that century, ‘the symphony’ itself remained basically the same with regard to its construction (ie. “some things never change”).
After 100 years of existence (give or take of few hiccups along the road of life), the Dallas Symphony unveiled Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 last night (April 26, 2012) for the first of four performances. Dallas Symphony audiences have not been graced with this work in 12 years, but what struck me the most during the roughly 75 minute performance of this 4 movement masterpiece was the affect and effect (there are those words again) the composition had on the audience. Bruckner’s 8th is a work of intense power and beauty that often leaves an audience breathless in between movements, as it did at this performance. There are ‘edge of seat’ moments and sudden shifts of sweeping legato that carry the listener along a musical wave the way a boat is glided along an ocean of powerful undercurrent. Jaap van Zweden conducts with passion, but with such sublime dignity that one really does wonder what he is thinking as he leads his forces. I guarantee you, he is NOT thinking about turning the pages of his score, the occasional rough entrance by the horns, or even the cool, swift elegance of his timpanist. It is indeed something more, and his audiences level their support for him and his orchestra with instantaneous standing ovations. Music’s greatness can, and always will, be measured in moments. Music is of the moment, and is not a captive art; therefore I believe listeners should just ‘go with the flow’, as it will often take them to places they may have never realized even existed.
When one programs a single work for a night at the Symphony, it had better be good. DSO did this successfully last season with a rendering of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 (see posting: “Death of a Symphony”???….Not so fast!!!). It is a good strategy, as would also be a 7:30 p.m. start time. This gives Symphony goers the chance to see a concert, have dinner or drinks thereafter, and TALK about what they have just seen and heard; thus extending and varying their night out. This Bruckner was just such an opportunity, and I did just that with a friend after the performance.
Dallas arts donors and symphony supporters must realize that Mo. van Zweden brings world-class gravitas to the podium, and lifts this orchestra to world-class levels. Dallas may be a huge sports town, but its arts district is also world-renowned. Its musicians are, in fact, the athletes of this art-form and are deserving of respect and admiration. I know something about world-class: I grew up with The Cleveland Orchestra, under the likes of Szell, Maazel, and von Dohnanyi. I have worked with Levine, Boulez, Conlan, Pappano, Davis, and countless others. Dallas is not the cow-town of 100 years ago (or even 50 years ago by some accounts); you have it…please don’t lose it…you are 100 years YOUNG!!!
*Musical note: As an opera singer, I love drawing comparisons between symphony and opera. As many know, Bruckner was a huge disciple of Richard Wagner. I simply had to smile as the final moments of Bruckner’s 8th seem to be a direct nod in the direction of Wagner himself, as the comparison to the final orchestral moments of Das Rheingold are simply unmistakeable!!!