With joyful sounds, DSO celebrates new season

09.12.08
Gil Shaham
Detroit News

On a date that still clenches the heart, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra opened its season Thursday night with a program that embraced life and the joy that music can bring to it.

In comments from the stage at Orchestra Hall, both guest conductor Peter Oundjian and DSO president and executive director Anne Parsons acknowledged the solemnity inspired by remembrance of 9/11, and both also essentially made the same point that life is a treasure to be celebrated.

To be sure, the evening's fare was music of jubilee, starting with an exuberant turn through Wagner's vivacious Prelude to Act III of "Lohengrin." Also in that celebratory spirit was Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio espagnol," a virtuoso spectacle that found Oundjian pulling out all the stops and the DSO's new principal flutist, Sharon Sparrow, making a strong impression with her first solos.

Yet, brilliantly as the DSO played the "Capriccio," I can't help wondering aloud why Oundjian decided to recycle the piece when pianist Lang Lang comes to Orchestra Hall for a single performance Sunday afternoon. Assuming many of the same music lovers who hear the DSO's opening subscription series, Thursday through Saturday, will return for Lang Lang, it seems unimaginative at best simply to repeat that 15-minute work.

It's certainly just as well the "Rosenkavlier" Suite will not be repeated when Lang Lang plays Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 on Sunday. While Oundjian and company caught the lush textures of the music, Strauss' subtle textures and internal rhythmic inflections were generally lost in a lot of broad-brush painting.

This is music of the opera house, born with the breath of song. But more than that, "Rosenkavalier" represents Strauss at the summit of his powers as a portraitist in tone colors, a painter whose blurred lines and melding figures capture the ambiguities of human nature. Amid the DSO's luxurious sound, the humanity of Strauss' music seemed to recede.

More assured and rewarding was the collective effort in Brahms' Violin Concerto, which drew elegant, concentrated playing from soloist Gil Shaham. This was not heated, rhapsodic Brahms but songful and expansive, especially in Saham's caressing treatment of the slow movement.

Yet the violinist also indulged in some bizarre histrionics. He constantly turned away from the audience, making little bunny hops toward the conductor's podium or leaning into the first circle of strings as if in private communion.

The ear and the eye were having two different experiences. And the ear was a good deal happier.