The Meyerson Symphony Center is 20 years old, so its principal inhabitant, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, has not been prominently involved in the activities surrounding the unveiling of the brand-new segments of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Still, the DSO is a part of the expanding arts district and can’t be ignored, so on Sunday afternoon it made its own contribution to the festivities.
And what a contribution it was! With Jaap van Zweden conducting, the orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Chorus and four vocal soloists gave a stupendous performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It was one of those performances that make a familiar old work seem fresh once more. There were thrills throughout; nothing seemed routine.
Van Zweden kept tempos moving, not pushing unduly in the first and third movements but definitely setting a pace that was out of the ordinary, to great effect. The famous scherzo was almost ferocious at times, and even its trio, while relaxing the tension slightly, stepped briskly. The more episodic “Ode to Joy” movement was full of thrills. The fanfare leading up to the first vocal entrance was hair-raising, and the final measures were taken at the fastest tempo I have ever heard for this passage.
The orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Chorus were in fine fettle, and the four vocal soloists — Christine Brewer, Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, John Mac Master and Luca Pisaroni — added strength to the performance. By the way, the soloists were placed at the rear of the stage, behind the horns. This unusual placement was not in the least detrimental to their sound and made their entrance before the third movement logistically smoother. A nice innovation.
The audience, which undoubtedly included many newcomers to classical music (it was free and open to visitors to the day’s festivities), responded enthusiastically with shouts, cheers, whistling and sustained applause. It wasn’t your typical polite acknowledgment.
In sum, an admirable contribution to a day in which the arts district for once was really a people place.