arts entertainmentPerforming Arts

Dallas Symphony in Europe: A concert in Munich’s newish Isarphilharmonie

Fabio Luisi and the orchestra played to an enthusiastic full house.

MUNICH — If residents of the Bavarian capital imagined Dallas as a place of cowboys — and the TV show Dallas the Dallas Symphony Orchestra proved the city’s cultural creds Sunday night. Midway through a European tour of 10 cities, the orchestra’s concert at the 3-year-old Isarphilharmonie was sold out well in advance, and audience response was certainly enthusiastic. There was even applause — gasp — after the first two movements of the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony. (The nice woman next to me said that was unusual.)

Initially challenged by weather-canceled flights from DFW, and long delayed luggage, the DSO’s first European tour since 2013, and its first under music director Fabio Luisi, began June 3 in Spain. After performances in Zaragoza and Madrid, the tour continued in Germany, with concerts in Frankfurt and Freiburg.

Luisi, whose career has mainly been in Europe, is well known this side of the Atlantic. And violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, performing John Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2 on the tour, is something of a rock star in Europe. The concert opened with Flare by DSO composer-in-residence Sophia Jani, who’s from Munich.


I caught up with the orchestra in Munich, and will follow them to Hamburg and Vienna, after which they’ll continue to Cologne, Essen and Brussels.

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Built as a temporary concert hall for use during extended renovation of the Gasteig, the city’s nearly 40-year-old performance, library and educational facility, the Isarphilharmonie favors an industrial modern look. Aesthetically, it’s the opposite of Dallas’ Meyerson Symphony Center, the latter’s luxurious modernism incorporating subtle classical allusions.

Foyer of the Isarphilharmonie in Munich, Germany, where the Dallas Symphony Orchestra...
Foyer of the Isarphilharmonie in Munich, Germany, where the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed June 9, 2024.(Scott Cantrell)

Taking design cues from an old power station transformer hall adapted as a high-ceilinged foyer, the performance hall is a black shoebox inside, narrowed toward the stage. Walls are of staggered horizontal wood strips — a bit like the concrete walls of Dallas’ Moody Performance Hall. Balconies are fronted with chain link fencing.

The hall was designed by architects Gerkan, Marg and Partners, with acoustics by Nagata Acoustics International, led by Yasuhisa Toyota. The same acoustical firm designed the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the DSO’s next tour stop, and Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and was one of the consultants for the Paris Philharmonie.


The sound has presence and clarity and an agreeable bit of “ring,” but not much actual reverberation. It’s proved enough of a sonic success that people are wondering if renovation of the Gasteig — never a place of great sound — is worth the expense.

Munich’s musical life has waxed and waned over the centuries, with shifting princes, priorities, economies and wars. Today it’s an important European musical capital, with two internationally known symphony orchestras, the Munich Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The prolific Bavarian State Opera produces more than 40 operas and 20 ballets each season, and its orchestra also performs concerts.

The performance of Jani’s Flare, composed in 2021, was its European premiere. Marked “Calm, with elegance,” it opens with washes, ripples and slides of sound, with tollings of percussion. But it works up a great sonic explosion, with brasses suggesting a solemn march. Jani appeared onstage to share the applause.


Programming the Williams may have been a savvy marketing move. Although famous as a composer of movie scores, Williams has also produced substantial concert pieces for major soloists and orchestras. His Second Violin Concerto was composed for Mutter, who premiered it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

It’s in four not very distinguishable movements. A prominent harp part and sustained strings support the violin’s opening ruminations. The music becomes more unsettled, then contentious, before dreamy ruminations resume. A showy cadenza is answered by pounding, crashing music. An ironic, sassy dance acquires another cadenza.

Composed during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the concerto a reflection of unsettled, and unsettling, emotions of the time? It left me as confused as at its September 2021 Dallas performance. Maybe two more performances will grow on me.

Although a master of orchestral sounds and effects, Williams has mainly worked in specified timeframes; maybe organizing a large-scale piece didn’t come naturally.

But it’s certainly a showpiece for solo violin, and Mutter flawlessly dispatched every soulful musing, every wild leap, every dizzying scurry, every challenging double stop. Luisi and the orchestra collaborated ably, and harpist Emily Levin got a well-deserved bow for her contributions. For an encore Mutter and the orchestra performed “Helena’s Theme” from Williams’ score for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

The first movement of the Tchaikovsky got one of the most electrifying performances I’ve heard from the DSO. Luisi’s ever-expressive hands could mold phrases with sometimes daring freedom, making us almost beg for pivotal resolutions, but he sustained gripping tension all the way through. Brasses sliced through with razors’ edges. The third-movement Waltz was quite mobile, Luisi convincing me of an unsettled undercurrent I’d never heard before.

The slow movement, opening more slowly than the score’s metronome marking, lacked essential momentum. Daniel Hawkins delivered the famous horn solos with authority, with lovely counterpoints from clarinetist Gregory Raden, but the music wanted to move more. The finale was capably performed, if not quite transcending the least inspired of the symphony’s writing.

To wildly enthusiastic applause from the audience, Luisi singled out individual musicians, then whole sections of the orchestra. For an encore the orchestra played a razzle-dazzle Glinka Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture.