New technology came to the Dallas Symphony at this excellent concert — but who knew?

Giancarlo Guerrero, Leonidas Kavakos
The Dallas Morning News

Unless you read the news online last week, you wouldn't have known about it Saturday. No announcement was made, and nothing was mentioned in the program book.

But the weekend's Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts included a soft rollout of a new technology to transmit program notes and images to smartphones and tablets in the audience. I gave it a try Saturday night.

Developed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Drexel University, the system is being used for illustrative works on five concerts this season. This time it was for the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the second half of an all-Russian program led by guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony.

I've long advocated at least projected supertitles for works like Pictures, a suite of musical impressions of paintings and drawings by the Russian artist Victor Hartmann. I've also seen supertitles projected —  effectively, with illustrations — with ballet scores by Ravel and Stravinsky. Why not try a new technology? 

The interactive LiveNote system, accessible from the DSO mobile app, uses white type on a black screen, to minimize distraction. With Pictures, one could swipe from one paragraph to another, and from one musical section to another. Many of the Hartmann images that inspired the sections have been lost, but others were offered as substitutes.

That aside, the concert was pretty fabulous. Guerrero's podium choreography is distractingly flamboyant, but he certainly got results from the orchestra. In Pictures, as well as the Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov Night on Bald Mountain, there was drama aplenty, but also fastidious attention to detail. Thrice-familiar pieces were made fresh and exciting.

The orchestra played up a storm when called for, filling the Meyerson Symphony Center with blazes of brass, booms and crashes of percussion. Almost more impressive were the decrescendos and subtly tinted wisps of pianissimos.  In Pictures, Tim Roberts supplied eloquent saxophone solos in "The Old Castle" and Russell Campbell smartly dispatched the trumpet's high chatters in "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle."

Guerrero, a Nicaragua native raised in Costa Rica, educated at Baylor and Northwestern universities, was no less sure a collaborator in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, again with the most alert, finely detailed playing from the orchestra. Leonidas Kavakos, a DSO artist-in-residence this season, was the superb soloist, dispatching virtuoso licks with unassuming brilliance, but also savoring the spooky, unsettled music.
Read the full review here