The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 Season got underway with this twice-played programme (this was the second). Following a communal and rousing ‘Star-Spangled Banner’, Leonard Slatkin led an affectionate and witty account of the Overture to Leonard Bernstein’s Voltaire-inspired Candide (which went from musical to opera during a couple of decades of compositional indecision). Then, by contrast, George Gershwin’s rather lovely and gently rocking Lullaby, which becomes especially poignant at its mid-point, played tenderly throughout by the DSO strings, not least in beguiling solos.
Ferran Cruixent (born 1976) – described by the DSO as an “innovative Spanish classical, soundtrack, and video game composer” – has given us Big Data. Close on three years ago the DSO played Cruixent’s Cyborg. I liked it. I like Big Data too, texturally busy (Firebird-like, at times), ever-changing in sound, unpredictable, including some vocalising from the orchestra and timbres I’d hesitate to nominate as to exactly where from, although there was no mistaking the interstellar chirrups that preset mobile-phone ringtones made (the property of the orchestra rather than the audience) and the community humming was rather moving. ‘Daisy Bell (bicycle made for two)’, a popular ditty from 1892 by Harry Dacre, and sung by ‘Hal’ the computer in Kubrick’s 2001, is in there as well, but its appearance passed me by, pedal-power. Boldly imagined and demanding of virtuosos, Big Data – not all fast, vibrant and ricocheting, but sometimes serene and with a sense of journeying high – is twenty minutes for anyone who loves the orchestra and what it is capable of, boundless in colour and effects according to Cruixent. Big Data isn’t going to win any prizes for structural surety or for the development of ideas but it scores high in imagination, and there was no doubting the dazzling quality of this performance of it.
Following the interval Hilary Hahn gave a poised, sweet-toned and richly expressive rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Slatkin and the DSO paved the way with a warm and dynamic introduction and offered responsive and robust support to Hahn’s flexible (fieriness tempered by reflection) rendition; and the Al Glancy Control Room ensured she was naturally balanced with the orchestra. Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza proved to be the summation of the first movement and the succeeding Larghetto searched its way into the consciousness, following which the Finale had a spring in its step, vigorous yet dancing. If at any time Hahn dropped a stitch, then I didn’t hear it: compassion and technical perfection were rolled into one. The (perhaps inevitable) Bach encore was the ‘Gigue’ from one of the Partitas, polished and spirited.