A razzle-dazzle Dallas Symphony concert, with a Christopher Rouse world premiere

Dallas Morning News
By: Scott Cantrell

Rarely does a brand-new piece of music really grab me and keep me completely engaged on first hearing. But the world premiere of Christopher Rouse's brilliant, exciting and at times hauntingly beautiful Fifth Symphony had that effect Friday night, at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Judging by the roaring ovation after the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performance, under music director Jaap van Zweden, lots of others were similarly affected.

Co-commissioned by the DSO (with support from the Norma and Don Stone Fund for New Music), the Nashville Symphony and the Aspen Music Festival and School, the 29-minute symphony has no movement breaks, but a sort of ABABA structure: hyperactive and often busily contrapuntal music is spelled by two slow interludes. Textures in the fast music get quite complex, but rhythmic edginess keeps the music hurtling forward. 

Dissonant brass chords--initially in the famous four-note rhythm opening Beethoven's Fifth Symphony--recur as passing punctuations in both fast and slow music. But what's striking, especially for a composer early on known for intensely assaultive scores, is how happy so much of this music is.

Rouse, at 67 one of the most commissioned and performed American composers, openly acknowledges various influences on his music. The bristling energy and striking colors here repeatedly suggest a descendant of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. Those dissonant fanfares could be mischievous grandchildren of William Schuman's big-band effects; perky passing hoedowns for winds suggest episodes in symphonies of Walter Piston.

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