The brand-new Dallas Chamber Symphony made its debut Tuesday night in the brand-new Dallas City Performance Hall. If neither orchestra nor hall realized its full potential, clearly each has the makings of real quality.
Led by artistic director Richard McKay, the ensemble comprised 19 strings plus winds, brass, piano and percussion as needed. The sound had no problem filling the 750-seat hall, only half of whose seats were occupied.
Raised in Plano, McKay has a doctorate in conducting from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Compact and boyish, he led with clear beat and cues. The very young-looking ensemble included a handful of players from the Dallas and Fort Worth symphony orchestras and the Dallas Opera Orchestra. The performances sounded well rehearsed, although with a few too many split horn notes.
Relaxed to a fault, McKay was clearly in control, but he didnât communicate much sense of the musicâs drama. One neednât flail about on the podium, but a conductor does need to engender a feeling for musical tension and release.
Mozartâs Marriage of Figaro Overture was briskly dispatched, but with little shaping of phrases, and strings sometimes swamped crucial wind parts. Beethovenâs Seventh Symphony was plausibly paced, but McKay relied on volume more than management of tension to create excitement.
He ticked right through major transitions that wanted more âgive.â One hopes heâll learn the structural and expressive power of a delayed downbeat here and there.
Fallaâs El amor brujo Suite, too, wanted more snap and crackle, more than well-drilled efficiency. The mezzo-soprano solos donât require the most honeyed tones, but I longed for more warmth, less earthiness, from Laura Mercado-Wright. She repeatedly disappeared in the sound of the orchestra.
Clearly, the new group will have to learn to play with the new space. Musicians used to 2,000-seat halls need to reduce intensities here, and adjust balances. In the Beethoven, violinists were bowing as aggressively as they would in a Shostakovich symphony at the Meyerson Symphony Center down the street. That needs to change.
The adjustable acoustics in the hall were overdamped, too. The sound improved a bit in the second half, when I moved to the balcony, but ears still craved a little more âring.â This, too, will need experimentation.
For classical-music concerts, audiences should have at least half-light for reading the program. Printed texts and translations were supplied for the Falla, but in microscopic print hardly readable in bright sunlight.