Exhilarating Mozart concert by Dallas Symphony, Nicholas McGegan and Hélène Grimaud is followed by COVID cancellations


The Dallas Symphony Orchestra had unwelcome news Friday morning, the day after an elegant, exhilarating all-Mozart concert. Guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, who along with DSO musicians had been given daily coronavirus tests, was positive for the virus.

Repeat performances on Friday and Saturday were canceled, although in their place the weekend’s piano soloist, Hélène Grimaud, agreed to join violinist Eunice Keem and cellist Andrés Diaz in chamber works by Schumann, Brahms and Ravel.

The DSO has taken great pains this season to present concerts as safely as possible. Both musicians and audiences have been limited in number and socially distanced, the former on an extended Meyerson Symphony Center stage. String players have worn masks.

In the Thursday concert, McGegan and Grimaud brought both drama and elegant detail to music often served up in pastel prettiness. Fortunately, the DSO is video-recording most concerts these days, and Thursday’s concert will be available online Jan. 29.

Known as a specialist in 18th century music, McGegan is an energetic figure on the podium. Sometimes he doesn’t so much conduct as pull and push the music into life, shaping it with care — indeed, love. He fairly radiates joy, and one sensed the 36 DSO musicians happily giving their all, and then some.

These were, admittedly, works in Mozart’s most theatrical instrumental voice, making much of minor keys, restless energies and startling contrasts. The life-and-death struggles of Don Giovanni aren’t far away.

McGegan certainly energized the urgent, unsettled — indeed, operatic — opening of the D minor Piano Concerto (K. 466). What could pass as a child’s simple ditty opens the concerto’s central “Romance,” but even here a middle section explodes in turbulence. As rendered by Grimaud and McGegan, the finale burst on the scene anxiously, excitedly.

This was a performance informed by current thoughts on 18th century performances, with great rhythmic vitality and suave molding of phrases. The chamber-orchestra ensemble, appropriate for Mozart, put a fine finish on the dramas as well as the intimacies.

Pianist Helene Grimaud performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with guest conductor Nicholas McGegan and the DSO on Jan. 14.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

In contrast to typical silks-and-satins Mozart, Grimaud enjoyed full resources of a modern Steinway, the Beethoven cadenzas heightening the drama. One might have thought a fortissimo here and there overdone, but Grimaud made it work. Everywhere, with subtle shapings, she favored a pearly tone that perfectly balanced the orchestra.

The Symphony No. 40, in G minor, was as arresting — indeed, gripping — as could be imagined. McGegan made it a living, breathing thing, excitable, but also capable of tenderness. The second movement was felt in a flowing, forward-moving two beats per measure, the Menuetto in a jolly, even earthy, one beat per measure. (Late minuets often ventured far from their courtly dance origins.)

The musicians’ onstage distancing again made for an occasional tiny slippage of ensemble. But balances of winds and brasses versus strings, problematic in some recent DSO concerts, were perfectly judged; special praise goes to the horns, played with impressive breath and lip control by Kevin Haseltine and Alexander Kienle.


Repeat performances of the orchestral program have been canceled. But a video recording will be available Jan. 29 as part of the DSO’s NEXT STAGE Digital Concert Series. Free for DSO season subscribers, $10 for others; a video season pass is $125. It will also be available from the Deutsche Grammophon DG Stage:


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