DSO: If it's Thursday, it must be West Bloomfield

Cho-Liang Lin
Detroit Free Press

By Mark Stryker

Last week at Carnegie Hall in New York. Thursday night at the Berman Center in West Bloomfield. Friday morning in Dearborn. Saturday in Bloomfield Hills. Sunday in Grosse Pointe Farms. Next week back at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is moving around a lot as the current season hits its final stretch.

The range of activities and locations says something important about the profile of the orchestra these days, reestablishing its presence on the national scene while deepening its ties to audiences in suburban Detroit and honoring its primary home in Detroit, Orchestra Hall — which, by the way, as last week’s trip to New York reminded me, belongs with Carnegie and Boston’s Symphony Hall as one of the three most rewarding spaces in the country to hear a symphony orchestra perform.

This week’s Neighborhood Series concerts employ a scaled-down chamber orchestra under the direction of guest conductor and violinist Cho-Liang Lin; they’re playing music by Mendelssohn, Edward Elgar and Mozart. (In another echo of the diversity of the DSO’s everyday life, the other half of the orchestra is playing Beatles-themed pops concerts this weekend at Orchestra Hall.) Thursday’s performance had nice moments, but also came across as a little dull, lacking contrast. Substituting something with a more modern or contemporary snap for the dreamy English lyricism of Elgar’s Serenade in E minor for Strings would have helped.

Still, it was a pleasure to hear a subset of the orchestra address a piece of chamber music as imposing as Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings, a miracle of formal imagination and emotional depth for a composer of any age, much less one who was only 16 when he wrote it in 1825. Lin played the first violin part, adopting an aggressive attack and intensity of sound that wasn’t always matched down the line. There were seams in the ensemble too. But the lighter-than-air scherzo brought the playing into focus, and in the finale the group’s energy, enthusiasm and execution were all locked in a warm embrace.

Leaving his violin backstage after intermission, Lin as conductor brought a pleasing muscularity and quick-step tempos to Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”); he balanced these elements with naturally expressive phrasing that prevented the music from turning overly brittle, though greater dynamics would have been welcome in the opening allegro. But the andante had a graceful lilt with the violas especially effective, and the bold finale left a winning spirit in the air.