May 14, 2021

Dallas Morning News acclaims Gemma New in her Dallas Symphony Orchestra performance

Dallas Symphony Plays Gloriously Principal Guest Conductor Gemma New
By Scott Cantrell
Dallas Morning News
May 14, 2021

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra sounded like a million bucks Thursday night.

The accomplishment was all the more impressive for challenges posed by this season’s COVID adaptations. With concerts reduced to half the usual numbers of players, well spaced on the extended Meyerson Symphony Center stage, with different rosters week to week, coordination, balance and blend haven’t come easily.

But on Thursday, principal guest conductor Gemma New coaxed playing of amazing precision, tonal finesse and generous expressivity.

At the center of the program was the world premiere of Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom’s Violin Concerto No. 2, subtitled with might and main. Commissioned by the DSO’s Principal Chair Endowment Program, it featured Angela Fuller Heyde, the DSO’s principal second violinist, as soloist.

Composed in 2019 and 2020, the piece is 25 minutes long, in the traditional fast-slow-fast movements. Roustom says its unsettled, even turbulent, character reflects a period challenged by racial strife and the onset of a worldwide pandemic. The central movement, marked “Sighing,” grew out of personal recovery from a painful back injury.

The piece explodes with orchestral sound and fury and sinister snarls, elsewhere pacing warily. But there’s a hint of playfulness in a middle-movement dialogue between the soloist and fluttering flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons.

Fuller Heyde played with precision and elegance, and New seemed in secure control of complex interactions.

The evening’s prize was an exquisite account of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. New coaxed delicate, diaphanous textures and pastels occasionally shot through with flashes of bright color and sparkles.

Erin Hannigan (oboe), David Matthews (English horn), Deborah Baron (flute), Gregory Raden (clarinet) and Alexander Kerr (violin) supplied lovingly shaped solos. Contrabassoonist Peter Grenier delivered fine growls for “Conversations of Beauty and the Beast.” The hushed episode before the suite’s final explosions of ecstasy was breathtakingly beautiful.

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