This spring, Grammy Award-winning conductor Fabio Luisi makes his first appearance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) since he was announced as the orchestra’s next Music Director. He will lead the DSO during its annual SOLUNA Festival on April 18 & 19 in William Grant Still’s Poem for Orchestra, Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion and Strings, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. After a transitional season as Music Director Designate in 2019-20, Luisi will assume the full title in the 2020-21 season. As the conductor says of the upcoming performance: “I am honored to join the Dallas Symphony Orchestra during the fifth year of SOLUNA. The festival provides such fertile ground for new ideas, and it challenges the boundaries of classical music.”
Luisi’s program features an intriguing combination of innovative and traditional repertoire. Along with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony are two pieces composed in the 1940s but very seldom heard. William Grant Still, known as the “Dean” of African-American composers, was a pioneer: he was the first African-American to have a symphony performed by a leading American orchestra (1935), the first to conduct a major American orchestra (1936), and the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company (1949). A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, he won a scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory at a time when traditional composition was coexisting uncomfortably with the avant-garde, and he was influenced by both. His Poem for Orchestra—written to imagine the world’s rebirth of spirituality after times of severe darkness and desolation—was composed in 1944, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra. Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion and Strings, written in 1949, is a virtuosic solution to a problem he set for himself: weaving seven solo instruments of widely divergent characters into a coherent tapestry. Luisi, an enthusiast of Martin’s works, also recently recorded the composer’s orchestral song cycle Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke with Philharmonia Zurich.
Luisi has been lauded for Beethoven performances around the world, both with his regular ensembles—he is also Principal Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, General Director of Zurich Opera, and, as of last spring, Music Director of Florence’s Opera di Firenze—and as a guest conductor. It was, in fact, after leading the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto last spring, along with Richard Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben, that the conductor was offered the position of Music Director. Texas Classical Review noted that “while these two works represent very different approaches, the veteran Italian conductor convincingly and stylishly navigated both. … The orchestra played gloriously, from satin-finished violins to stirring proclamations from horns. Climaxes thrilled without forcing; fastidious attention to balances allowed us to hear clearly into complex textures.” The Dallas Morning News, reviewing the same concert, called it “one of the most compelling guest conductor appearances in recent memory.”
Luisi’s plans for the new appointment include opening each season with an opera in concert, beginning in the fall of 2019 with Richard Strauss’s Salome, followed by Verdi’s Otello in 2020. He plans to focus on the Romantic repertoire, but also to commission 20 new works over the course of a decade, at least half from female composers. He will lead seven weeks of concerts during his inaugural season in 2020-21, and expand his Dallas presence in successive seasons.
The Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Family SOLUNA International Music & Arts Festival, running from April 4-28, 2019, will present performances and installations by an expansive range of contemporary artists working across multiple mediums. In its fifth year, the festival continues a compelling collaboration with the Dallas arts community, engaging both local and international talent to present singular and unique programming for all audiences. Throughout the course of the festival, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will stage performances that share innovative classical music with new audiences, reinforcing the vital role that the orchestra plays within contemporary American culture. Highlights of the 2019 festival include the world premiere of a SOLUNA co-commission, Caravan: A Revolution on the Road with Terence Blanchard, Rennie Harris and Andrew Scott, and Anthracite Fields, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence, Julia Wolfe.
The DSO will announce programming for its entire 2019-20 season on February 8.