La Scena Musicale

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Odd Couple: Britten and Shostakovich Superb Match Under van Zweden & DSO

There are plenty of recordings of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 Op. 60 (Leningrad), but one rarely gets a chance to hear it in concert. The same could be said, only more so, for Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto Op. 15. To have them both offered on the same program is a special treat; thus, Jaap van Zweden
and the Dallas Symphony (DSO) had me excited even before they played the first note of this concert at Morton Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas.

As it happens, these two works were composed within a few years of each other: the Britten in 1939 and the Shostakovich in 1941. Although the two composers didn’t meet until 1960, they were mutual admirers and each dedicated major works to the other.

The Britten Violin Concerto was first on the program and it brought back to Dallas the extraordinary Dutch violinist, Simone Lamsma, whose performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto last season had made such a strong impression.

Consummate Performance of Neglected Masterpiece!

Lamsa’s rendering of the Britten concerto was beyond impressive. Her technical and intellectual control of the piece convinced me that Opus. 15 is a neglected masterpiece. She soared into the top register of her instrument with total assurance and tossed off the difficult left-hand pizzicati with perfect panache. Such rock-solid playing enabled one to savor the musical argument, and it was profoundly satisfying.

The final movement of this volin concerto is a Passacaglia – a set of variations on a bass line - and surely one of the most imaginative examples of the form by this composer or any other. It starts with a doleful theme in the trombones - performed with perfect intonation by the DSO brass - and goes on from there. It was mesmerizing to hear Ms. Lamsma ring changes on the theme while behind her various sections of the orchestra were going through a series of inventive and complementary permutations on their own. The movement ends quietly and sadly, not unlike the ending of the Berg Violin Concerto.

Lamsma played magnificently, with van Zweden and the DSO providing impeccable accompaniment.

Instrumental Britten Revived and Re-instated

Over the course of his lifetime, Britten was frequently criticized for being, in effect, "too clever." Critics claimed that his music was superficial, that it had no depth.

With the passing of time, however, many have come to appreciate the extent of Benjamin Britten’s originality. For some, myself included, he is the greatest composer of opera and song that England has ever produced, and I believe his instrumental music will continue to grow in stature.

The Violin Concerto Opus 15 is often written off as “an early work,” but as is the case with Mozart and Mendelssohn, many of Britten’s early works are among his finest. Let me give you just one example of what might be mistaken simply for ‘cleverness’ in this concerto. It’s an extraordinary passage in the Scherzo movement for piccolos and tuba. A ‘clever’ and unusual combination? Perhaps! But exciting as well, when one realizes that, in combination, Britten has given these often stereotyped instruments striking new dimensions of expression.

I have always considered Benjamin Britten to be one of the great masters, but before this concert I had never fully appreciated his Violin Concerto. I am deeply grateful that Lamsma and van Zweden provided the key to such a work. Incidentally, the Violin Concerto has a Canadian connection; Britten completed its composition in St. Jovite, Québec.

Making a Case for “Leningrad”

After intermission came the much longer Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) by Shostakovich, perhaps best known for its Bolero-like first movement (Allegretto) which builds from a soft, repeated snare drum figure to a monumental climax.

Unfortunately, Shostakovich’s theme for this episode is every bit as trite as Ravel’s Bolero and, like its counterpart, it does not improve with repetition. No wonder Bartok made fun of the Shostakovich tune in his Concerto for Orchestra!

That said, Maestro van Zweden made the best possible case for the 7th’s opening theme. He started the section with a virtually inaudible snare drum establishing the rhythm – marked ppp in the score – and built the volume with meticulous care. When the climax came, it was certainly impressive – and earsplitting – as the extra brass (called for in the score) were added to the already large and powerful orchestra. As usual, the magnificent McDermott Concert Hall of the Morton Myerson Symphony Center handled the huge volume of sound with ease.

For me, however, the best parts of the Leningrad are not the towering climaxes in the first and last movements but the second movement (Moderato) and the third movement (Adagio).

The second movement (Moderato) is hauntingly beautiful, beginning with the loveliest oboe solo Shostakovich ever wrote, beautifully played by Erin Hannigan. Then come several sections recalling Mahler, especially in his use of woodwinds in various combinations. Then an entirely original touch - at least in my experience - as the bass clarinet (Christopher Runk) plays an eloquent, extended solo accompanied by the harp, two flutes in their lowest register and an alto flute. This combination makes for an uncommon, uncanny sound. Once again, van Zweden and the DSO played to perfection: tempo just right; rhythms crisp; tonal quality exquisite.

The Adagio movement opens with extremely disturbing block chords that move into music expressing all kinds of lamentation. This is followed by the moderato risoluto section, a kind of 'danse macabre.' Van Zweden brought out the syncopation driving the music forward and made sure we also heard the rich sonorities of the Dallas strings, especially the double basses.

First Violins of DSO Savor Challenge!

This is music of endless soul-searching, probing the best and the worst of the Russian spirit during one of the worst periods in the country’s long and troubled history - the siege of Leningrad by the Nazi forces in an unimaginable campaign lasting two and a half years.

If music can adequately express such horrors, the Shostakovich Seventh Symphony is where you will find it. It is not easy listening, but like all great art, it penetrates and articulates the human condition in a universal language.

In closing, I must applaud the members of the first violin section of the Dallas Symphony led by Emanuel Borok and Gary Levinson. In this symphony, there is one passage after another where they must perform death-defying high wire acts in their instrument’s highest register. This is cruelly exposed music. Not only did they play these passages with unfailing accuracy; they also gave them superlative shape and character. This was first-class playing by any standard and Dallas is fortunate to have such gifted and dedicated musicians.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music, both available at

Photo by Marita: Maestro van Zweden and DSO in rehearsal

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Jaap van Zweden: Charismatic Conductor Changes Musical Life in Dallas and Amsterdam

by Paul E. Robinson

When a new conductor takes over an orchestra. the PR department invariably goes all out to convince the public that something momentous is about to happen and that they need to be a part of it. Occasionally, the new man (or woman) actually lives up to the hype. Last year in Dallas, Jaap van Zweden went far beyond even the most overheated hyperbole preceding his succession. On September 17, when the beat comes down on his second season with the Dallas Symphony, van Zweden’s music-making will speak for itself.

Already known as ‘Jaap’ in Dallas, that familiarity has not dimmed maestro van Zweden’s palpable charisma. He doesn’t endear himself with good looks - although his appearance is definitely magnetic - but with intensity and authority. By the time of his appointment, he had already earned the respect of DSO musicians on the basis of his sixteen years as concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the world’s great orchestras. After his first full season with the DSO, he has added, by all accounts, their admiration and gratitude for inspiring them to play better than they have in years. On the audience side, many Dallas listeners would say that their very fine orchestra, under van Zweden’s direction, was today playing with a fervor and excitement they hadn’t believed possible.

Jaap van Zweden still has a major musical base in Holland; he is principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (NRPO), and recently signed a new contract which will carry him through the 2014-2015 season. With the NRPO he will be committed to twelve weeks of concerts, as well as foreign tours and recordings. That still leaves plenty of time for Dallas and van Zweden will undoubtedly have a presence there for years to come.

Conversation with the Maestro
I recently sat down with Jaap van Zweden in his office at the Morton H. Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas and got to know him a little better. I began our conversation by asking him what he learned about conducting during his years as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s concertmaster:

Maestro: It was a kind of master class for a young conductor – no doubt about it. But the strange thing is that for most of that time I did not think about conducting. I was concertmaster and busy doing the best job I could. But now when I am conducting and I can’t find a solution suddenly it comes from my musical memory, how Solti or Lenny (Leonard Bernstein) or Eugen Jochum did it. Sometimes I have to go and write it down so I have a concrete reference for the future.

Paul Robinson: You mentioned Jochum. He didn’t conduct a great deal in North America, but record collectors will know him from his many fine Bruckner recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Concertgebouw. Has he been an influence in your approach to Bruckner?

Maestro: Yes, absolutely. Haitink also, but when he was alive Jochum was the great Bruckner specialist. What I learned from him was how to sustain sound, with a long stick and never-ending phrasing.

Paul Robinson: But as great as Jochum was in Bruckner, he was sometimes criticized for his tempo changes, for slowing down or speeding up even when no such changes were marked in the score.

Maestro: Yes, you are right. And that raises the questions of a conductor’s personality and putting his own stamp on the music. And while I was working with Jochum and Lenny – two conductors known for their individuality – I was also working with Harnoncourt. He was a frequent guest with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. And I made a decision that as a conductor I would be very free but always within the frame. And you know, the composers give you enough space within that frame to do your own interpretation. I try to be extremely respectful to the composer.

Paul Robinson: But Bruckner doesn’t make it easy for the conductor. For some of the symphonies he has left us several versions. How do you decide which ones to use?

Maestro: You know, for me this is not a big problem. For the most part, I was brought up with one or two versions and I think that the taste of Jochum and Haitink, they were not bad. I will stick to the versions they used.

Paul Robinson : You are recording all the Bruckner symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Audiences in North America seem to have much less interest in Bruckner’s symphonies than those in Europe. Do you plan to play Bruckner in Dallas? Will you try to develop a deeper appreciation of his music in Dallas?

Maestro: When I first conducted in Chicago last year – the Bruckner Fifth Symphony – I didn’t notice any problem. Next season I am conducting Bruckner in Dallas – the Ninth Symphony (Nov. 5-8) – and I will also conduct Bruckner in Philadelphia. It is true that people respond more easily to Mahler. It is about emotions and people like that. When they go to the movies they like action. If it is a movie about beauty they will just go away. For me beauty is more important than emotion and action, and in my opinion that is what Bruckner is talking about and that is what Bach is talking about. If you listen to Bruckner and Bach it makes you clean inside. If you listen to Mahler you will be full of emotion and all kinds of thoughts. With Bruckner there is a line to God. With Mahler there is also a line to God but it has lots of sideways I would say.

Paul Robinson: I am curious to know what you think of Mengelberg’s Mahler. Willem Mengelberg knew Mahler and often conducted his music and he was conductor of the Concergebouw Orchestra for many years. Yet his way with Mahler often differed sharply from that of other Mahler protégées such as Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer.

Maestro: I have some Mahler scores at my house, from the library of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, which contain all of Mengelberg’s markings. They are very interesting. But you know we live in a different time. Tempos are not set in stone. They have to be adjusted to circumstances. But at the same time I often think that we pay too much attention to external things rather than looking inside. When I think of the old maestros there was a lot of depth with these people. It is not so much whether the tempo is a little faster or a little slower; it’s the depth of the music-making. Our inner life, our soul is more important than the tempo.

Paul Robinson: I was listening the other day to your new recording of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. I was curious as to how you would begin the last movement. Shostakovich indicates a fairly slow beginning then a very gradual acceleration to a very fast tempo. Yet while some Russian conductors obey the score others do not. Bernstein was a famous interpreter of the piece and he started with an incredibly fast tempo.

Maestro: Who knows what is correct? I played this piece with Kondrashin and later I played it with Mariss Jansons. They are both from Russia and yet they are extremely different. I always get mixed up by different interpretations. I don’t know why people are doing what they are doing. From my study of the score it seems to me that one should get to the fast tempo very quickly. The music seems to work best this way, at least for me.

Paul Robinson: What can be learned from the period instrument specialists? As you mentioned, Nikolaus Harnoncourt was a frequent guest conductor in Amsterdam when you were there. What did you learn from Harnoncourt?

Maestro: I learned to phrase in a completely different way. And now I am talking about Schubert, Mozart and Haydn. For me, he was my great teacher in the music of these composers. And I think that is the future for our symphony orchestras. If you have an orchestra which can only play in one style it is very dangerous. It is a dead end. I would say that if you can play Mozart or Bach in a certain way and at the same time play contemporary music, you are much better off. These different styles of music have a way of feeding each other. You can’t play everything the same. You must be willing to embrace all the different styles of music. We play a lot of difficult contemporary music in Holland with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and I feel that makes my Brahms better. Or I should say, that makes our Brahms better.

Paul Robinson: I have seen you quoted as saying that the Myerson is one of the top five concert halls in the world. That is high praise from someone who has spent so much of his musical life in the legendary Concergebouw. Is it really that good?

Maestro: It is wonderful. In some ways it is even better than the Concertgebouw because the players can hear each other better. In the Concertgebouw sometimes we have to search for each other. Here it is a little bit drier on stage and that is good.

Highlights of Dallas Symphony Orchestra Season (2009-2010)
Jaap van Zweden has a very wide repertoire and a keen interest in opera. He had hoped to begin an annual opera in concert series with the DSO last season – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was set to go in May – but the severity of the recession forced the DSO to reduce expenses wherever possible and this project has been postponed along with a European tour. Nonetheless, the 2009-2010 season will include a number of major works with van Zweden at the helm. Among them are two Mahler symphonies (No. 1 Sept 24-26 and No. 2 May 20-22), the Bruckner 9th (Nov 5-7), the Rachmaninov Second Symphony (Feb. 14) and the Shostakovich Seventh (Feb.18-20).

Jaap van Zweden Discography
While the major record producers are drastically cutting back their releases, Jaap van Zweden is recording regularly in both Dallas and Amsterdam.

The DSO has released a CD devoted to Beethoven symphonies 5 and 7 and just a few weeks ago followed up with an all-Tchaikovsky album containing performances of the Fifth Symphony and Capriccio Italien. The Beethoven is excellent. The Tchaikovsky is sensational! This is the freshest Tchaikovsky 5th I have heard in years. And the Capriccio Italien faithfully documents a tremendous performance I heard in the Myerson last season. These recordings are currently only available through the DSO website or the Symphony Store in the Myerson. They deserve wider circulation.

Van Zweden has also been recording prolifically in Europe. A 2008 live performance of the Mahler 5th with the London Philharmonic is readily available (LPO-0033), and a 2006 reading of the Shostakovich 5th with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic is on Naïve AM 171.

Most of van Zweden’s European recordings have been made with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and these are somewhat difficult to find. He has done complete cycles of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies and is half-way through the Bruckner symphonies. Numbers 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9 are now available. These recordings are on the Exton label. Also for Exton, van Zweden has recorded six Haydn symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic.

While all the above European recordings offer impressive performances, van Zweden’s most outstanding releases so far have to be the opera performances on the Quattro label. The performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, given in the Concertgebouw earlier this year with Bayreuth veteran Robert Holl as Hans Sachs, is deeply satisfying. Van Zweden gets to the soul of this music and from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic he gets world-class playing. The choral work from the Groot Omroekoor is equally fine.

Van Zweden is again a commanding presence leading Wagner’s Lohengrin, also from Quattro. The cast is headed by Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role with Anne Schwanewilms as Elsa.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music, both available at

Photo by Marita

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jaap van Zweden's 1st Season in Dallas a Phenomenal Success!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels

There is no doubt about it. A new era of musical excellence is underway in Dallas. Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has just finished his first season as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and even the musicians are shaking their heads in disbelief. Is he really this good? Are we this good? “Yes,” and “yes” to both questions.

All this excitement notwithstanding, on May 21st at the Meyerson, the 'curtain went up' on a program that appeared neither well planned nor very convincing – at least on paper.

Van Zweden is passionate about opera. For this evening, he and the DSO had scheduled a concert performance of Madama Butterfly, but like orchestras everywhere, the Dallas Symphony has had to rework its budget in the face of a punishing recession; thus, instead of Madama Butterfly, we had, on the face of it, a mishmash of Tchaikovsky and Brahms culminating in yet another unnecessary performance of the 1812 Overture.

No matter. I would pay to hear Jaap van Zweden conduct Happy Birthday because I know he would give it one of the finest performances I have ever heard.

A Rousing but Anti-climactic 1812 Overture
The 1812 Overture, on this occasion, was the version by Igor Buketoff in which a chorus is substituted for lower strings in the opening bars and then makes several later appearances in the piece. We didn’t have cannons or fireworks in this performance, but the sparks were flying nonetheless in the overheated tempi chosen by van Zweden. The Dallas Symphony Chorus didn’t sound very Russian – not enough Russian basses have emigrated to Dallas, I guess – but they did their work with accuracy and gusto.

As good as it was, the 1812 Overture was an anticlimax after the most stunning performance of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien I have ever heard.

Superb Performance Recorded for DSO's Own Label!
Capriccio Italien begins with brass fanfares, based apparently on bugle calls Tchaikovsky heard played by an Italian cavalry regiment. It goes on to a series of Italian folk songs and street music and finishes with a wild tarantella.

One particular section in this performance of the work sounded more intense and ominous than I ever imagined it could. It was the soft, triplet accompaniment in the brass that did it. This figure was played with such rhythmic accuracy and so darkly that it became progressively more menacing.

‘Menacing’ or ‘ominous’ are not adjectives one normally associates with pop concert fare like Capriccio Italien. Hearing this performance, I began to suspect that the Italian influence here was Verdi.

This is what a conductor like van Zweden can do for ‘familiar’ repertoire. He approaches such pieces as if they deserved the commitment he would give to a Mahler symphony. Each phrase is given new life. Note values are accurately observed and balances are worked out in careful detail.

When Capriccio Italien moved into dance territory, van Zweden nearly danced himself off the podium and this involvement was infectious. The string sound soared and surged; it was fulsome and joyous. And the best was yet to come.

In this piece, Tchaikovsky’s brass section is headed by pairs of cornets and trumpets, the former employed for their sound and their super chromatic capabilities compared to the trumpet in Tchaikovsky’s time. Principal trumpet Ryan Anthony chose to play a cornet for this piece and the results were wonderful. It was just the right Italian folk music sound for the lyrical sections – with a generous helping of vibrato - and the agility of the instrument (and the player!) in the quick passages worked perfectly too.

For all its extraordinary nuances, what I’ll remember most about this performance is how van Zweden steadily increased the tempo in the proverbial ‘race to the finish.’ Van Zweden was fearless in his acceleration and the DSO players were with him every step of the way. This was virtuoso playing of the highest order.

Fortunately, this concert was being recorded for broadcast. Even better, the Capriccio Italien is scheduled for release later this year on the DSO’s own label. It will be coupled with a Tchaikovsky Fifth recorded earlier this season. If the recording of Capriccio Italien is anything close to what I heard Thursday night, it will be sensational.

Violinist Simone Lamsma Wows Audience!
The first half of the concert was pretty remarkable too. The young Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma made her debut with the DSO in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Ms. Lamsma was scheduled to be a featured soloist with the orchestra in its forthcoming European tour; unfortunately, the tour has been scrubbed for the time being. It is hard to justify foreign tours when the basic operating budget is taking such a beating.

In any case, it was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of the gifted Ms. Lamsma, winner of at least four major violin competitions in the past three years. She has a formidable technique and a warm, distinctive sound. With van Zweden on the podium - a colleague who has played this concerto himself -this was a fine collaboration. The orchestra played with great sensitivity and panache!

Ms. Lamsma returns next season to play the Britten Violin Concerto.

The concert opened with BrahmsSchicksalslied (Song of Destiny) , a setting for chorus and orchestra of a poem by Hölderlin. This is a beautiful if slight work by Brahms but it hardly fits in an all-Tchaikovsky program. And while the chorus sang beautifully, I thought that van Zweden miscalculated both dynamics and tempo. He started the piece so slowly and so softly that the line could not be sustained. Nor could the strings produce sufficient weight of sound. Still, this piece does not turn up often in concert and it was a pleasure to hear it, especially in an ideal acoustical setting like the Meyerson.

Jaap van Zweden has given Dallas a season of insight and excitement, with much more to come. Among the highlights next season will be the Mahler First and Second Symphonies, the Bruckner Ninth, the Rachmaninov Second Symphony and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad.)

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Van Zweden Galvanizes Dallas Symphony!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels


Conductors come and go, but it is always a thrill to see one who really makes a difference. At the beginning of this season, Jaap Van Zweden assumed the music directorship of the Dallas Symphony (DSO) and musical life in Dallas has not been the same since.

Van Zweden is not your Hollywood central casting conductor – in fact if you met him on the street you might mistake him for a wrestler or a weight-lifter – but conducting has less to do with how you look than what you can do with an orchestra.

Van Zweden is obviously a driven man and he expects that same drive from his players. At the concert I attended, there was no one sitting back and taking it easy. Instead of the lazy, half-hearted bowing one sees so often in string sections, every man and woman was bowing as if their lives depended on it. Not since Sir Georg Solti commanded a podium have I seen such intensity from a conductor.

Van Zweden’s message to the players? Music is serious stuff - I stayed up all night to figure this piece out and the least you can do is practice every waking hour until you are able to play it perfectly! Then we will start to work on interpretation and phrasing.

As it happens, earlier in his career, Van Zweden did play under Solti and other great conductors when he was concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recently voted the number one orchestra in the world by a group of respected luminaries. Van Zweden learned the repertoire as a player in a world-class orchestra and he also learned what it takes to make music at the highest level. He has clearly brought that attitude to Dallas and the DSO players seem to like it a lot.

What I heard at the Myerson Symphony Center was remarkable by any standard and as a glimpse of things to come, it was tremendously exciting.

The concert was a somewhat belated New Year’s celebration, loosely modeled on the annual event by the Vienna Philharmonic broadcast worldwide. This means music by the Strauss family, and it also means finishing up with the likes of the Blue Danube Waltz and the Radetzky March. To give the occasion an American flavor, Van Zweden ended the evening with Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, and earlier had presented Leroy Anderson’s somewhat dated novelty piece, The Typewriter.

Stokowski’s Orchestration of Pictures Rivals Ravel
The tour de force of the evening was Leopold Stokowski’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition. There are those who still wonder whether Stokowski actually wrote the many transcriptions attributed to him. There is strong evidence that much of this work was really done by Lucien Cailliet, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Stokowski era (1912-1936). The fact is that this orchestration is a fine alternative to the famous Ravel arrangement of the Mussorgsky original.

One of the devices Mussorgsky used to link the ‘pictures’ (by the composer’s friend Victor Hartmann) depicted in the piece is the ‘promenade” - walking music, if you will - as the visitor strolls from one exhibit to another in the gallery. The piece begins with just such a promenade and in the Ravel version, it is given to a solo trumpet. It is one of the best-known passages in classical music.

The Stokowski version starts quite differently, with rich and dark sonorities in the string section (with some reinforcement from an organ), and in the performance by Van Zweden and the DSO one was taken aback by the weight and opulence of the sound. This was the special quality of the hall yielding to a conductor skilled at eliciting the sound he wants from an orchestra. The performance went on from there to surprise and thrill us with playing of razor-sharp precision and a vast range of color.

Curiosities abound in Stokowski’s version of Pictures. Nearly always, Stokowski chose instruments and combinations of instruments far removed from the Ravel version. In several sections of the score, however, he seems to be saying - ‘Ravel’s choice of instrument was so inspired and so right I couldn’t possibly do better’; ergo, both the Ravel and Stokowski orchestrations feature a solo saxophone in 'Il Vecchio Castello' and a solo trumpet in 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.'

Van Zweden, DSO & Myerson Symphony Center - Triumphant Trio!
I look forward to returning to Dallas for more music-making from Jaap Van Zweden and his newly-galvanized Dallas Symphony. I’ll certainly have a lot more to say about Van Zweden, but I can’t emphasize enough that Dallas has one of the world’s great concert halls.

There are only a handful of concert halls in North America that come anywhere close to the quality of the Myerson Symphony Center. What makes it great? In a few words - the sound jumps off the stage and involves the listener. The sound enhances the timbre of every instrument in the orchestra and makes them sound well together. It helps too that the Myerson looks so good inside and out, and that you can get a good meal there!

Later this year, the Myerson will be joined by the new Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre just across the way. Within the span of a few blocks, one can also enjoy the treasures of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.

This is the Dallas Arts District, a work in progress for many years but now coming to completion. Big D is about to become bigger and better than ever.

From Triumphant Trios to Cuatro Leches at La Duni – Dallas Delights!
It is not in the Arts District, but La Duni, a Latin Café on Mckinney - where the Cuatro Leches cake alone would keep me coming back - is one of the places we always visit on our return trips to Dallas, where we lived several years.

There is much more to savor at La Duni, however, than cake; for example, several dozen kinds of coffee, and a wide variety of amazing tortas (sandwiches), including our current favorite - the 'Choripan' with Argentinian sausage, avocado and manchego cheese stuffed in a fresh popover and served with yucca fries!

La Duni’s McKinney Street location opened in 2001 with founders Espartaco and Dunia Borga at the helm, and there are now two other locations in Dallas. Word on the street – actually, from one of the La Duni staff members – is that within a year or so, there will be a La Duni in Austin. Great news for Austinites, like us!

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar; Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music; and Stokowski (Spring 2009), all available at

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