Last year, when it was announced that Jaap van Zweden would be the next music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a Dallas Morning News editorial proclaimed that “the orchestra’s own Tony Romo has arrived.” For Van Zweden, who’s from the Netherlands, the magnitude of that endorsement—to say nothing of the expectations for the position—is likely still sinking in. The DSO may not be quite as visible as America’s Team, but its bold new hire, who officially takes the helm this month, is coming in on a wave of near-unbridled excitement.
The 47-year-old Dutchman, who favors black Nehru-style jackets and wears a goatee that offsets his bald head, is certainly no novice to the stage. A Juilliard-trained violinist, he became the youngest concertmaster of Amsterdam’s prestigious Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at nineteen. And even though he began conducting on something of a whim—taking over a rehearsal of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 at Leonard Bernstein’s insistence in 1990—his skill with a baton has since eclipsed his prowess on the violin. He’s led orchestras across Europe and serves as the principal conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra of Belgium.
Virtually unknown on this side of the pond, however, he was a dark horse—at best—in the DSO’s secretive search to replace former director (and twelve-year vet) Andrew Litton. That is, until he came to guest-conduct the DSO for three nights in 2006. Following Van Zweden’s first performance, local music critic Scott Cantrell implored Dallasites to “sell the farm, mortgage the children, cancel the cruise . . . something miraculous has happened: The DSO is playing like one of the world’s greatest orchestras.” Under Van Zweden’s aegis, the DSO should be a tighter, more invigorated ensemble. Demanding yet respectful in rehearsals, he’s an intensely physical conductor, lunging to emphasize an accent, then crouching for a diminuendo. Routine, he says, is the “killer in our business,” so he plans to incorporate more modern music into the company’s repertoire as well as one opera performance each season (Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is on the schedule for May). There’s even talk of a European tour.
As a special treat, Van Zweden will perform his last public violin concert at the DSO’s $1,000-a-ticket opening gala. Then the 2008—2009 season, which was largely set before he came onboard, will officially begin with two huge works: Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and August 4, 1964, a world premiere by Texas composer Steven Stucky that pays tribute to LBJ. Following those challenges will be a program that includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, a fan favorite. Van Zweden has already made a good first impression, but—as a certain baby-faced quarterback can attest—every outing counts. Gala on September 10 at the Meyerson Symphony Center; 214-692-0203, dallassymphony.com
when the color purple debuted on Broadway in December 2005, theater critics were less than impressed. “Overamplified, overheated, and over hyped,” noted the New Yorker. The Wall Street Journal called it “a comic-book version of [Alice] Walker’s vastly overrated tale of oppression and hope in the Deep South.” But the public, who either didn’t read the reviews or simply dismissed them, went to see it anyway, setting several attendance records during its 910-show run. Now the touring production is making its way to San Antonio for eight performances before traveling to Houston and Dallas.
The sets won’t be as elaborate or the marquee names as big (though the Tony-nominated Felicia P. Fields is back as the defiant Sofia), but The Color Purple will likely draw just as many viewers on the road. And for one reason: the plotline. Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize—winning novel about Celie, a poor black girl from Georgia, and her metamorphosis from abused child to independent woman is just the sort of heroic tale we dutifully canonize. Granted, the heavy subject matter—domestic violence, infanticide, rape, racial oppression—and the complicated narrative arc (it spans four decades and two continents) isn’t standard Broadway fare. But onstage, Walker’s chapters, reconfigured as moving anthems and dramatic arias, benefit from the one thing a critic can’t predict: the audience’s emotional connection. In San Antonio from September 9 to 14 at the Majestic Theatre; 210-226-3333, colorpurple.com
Affair of the Art
the opening of the Nasher Sculpture Center in the fall of 2003 was heralded as the second coming of Dallas culture. Real estate developer and philanthropist Raymond Nasher and his wife, Patsy, had amassed so many pièces de résistance—pre-Columbian artifacts, small bronzes by Picasso, a slew of Matisse’s 3-D figures—that major museums around the world were salivating over the chance to house the couple’s collection. But Raymond, ever the self-made man, said no to the Guggenheim Museum and the National Gallery and the Tate, among others, and announced he would build his own repository in Dallas, his adopted city. Only five years old, the $70 million Renzo Piano—designed center has already lived up to the hype and hyperbole.
To mark the anniversary, the museum is presenting “In Pursuit of the Masters: Stories From the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection,” which attempts to parse the late patrons’ collecting philosophy. It’s easy enough to explain how they came to acquire such a touted cache: by plying their art-world connections (Patsy was known to swap pieces with Andy Warhol) and spending loads of money (the sculptures bequeathed to Dallas alone are worth more than $350 million). But it’s the why of their modus operandi that breathes life into this show. (Why so many wax-on-plaster busts by the relatively obscure Medardo Rosso? Why buy Magdalena Abakanowicz’s disturbing installation of 36 headless figures?) “We bought everything predicated on our own feeling,” Raymond once told this magazine. “Each piece we acquired gave us butterflies.”
Among those being unveiled to the public for the first time is the couple’s first major purchase of modern sculpture: Jean Arp’s Torso With Buds, a sinuous bronze that Patsy bought for Raymond’s forty-sixth birthday. One of their most personal selections, the work was purposely excluded from several Sotheby’s auctions in May, in which two hundred of the Nashers’ pieces were sold to build an endowment for the center (one late Picasso painting, The Kiss, went for a record-breaking $17.4 million). Photographs, videos, and an updated audio tour add to the insider tone of this intimate exhibit, which is, in essence, the story of two people’s love affair with art. From September 20 to January 4; 214-242-5100, nashersculpturecenter.org
Go to Arts and Culture for more than 170 other September events, including …
Water is no match for the capsaicin-laden peppers downed at this spicy Fort Worth event. 9/5–9/7, zestfest2008.com
Chopin Music Festival
It’ll be standing room only to hear talent from around the world at El Paso’s free concerts. 9/6 & 9/20, elpaso-chopin.com
Austin City Limits Music Festival
Three days. One hundred thirty acts (the Foo Fighters, Beck, Gnarls Barkley, and more). 9/26-9/28, aclfestival.com
State Fair of Texas
Big Tex welcomes you back to the 277-acre Textravaganza. Corny dog, anyone? 9/26-10/19, bigtex.com