Dallas Symphony blazes with music inspired by famous artist duo Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz

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In 1916, a friend of Georgia O’Keeffe brought some of the artist’s charcoal drawings to Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and dealer at the height of his fame. A follow-up letter from O’Keeffe sparked a tumultuous 30-year relationship with Stieglitz that saw her rise from obscurity to international fame.

American composer Kevin Puts sets the couple’s letters to music in The shine of light, for soprano, baritone and orchestra. The 2-year-old piece premiered Friday night in North Texas by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Rod Gilfry.

Fleming will give an opening speech at the DSO Women in Classical Music Symposium, starting Sunday, and will be honored with an award at the event.

Puts, rhymes with “soot”, has links with the region. He was previously composer in residence with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, the Fort Worth Opera House produced its Pulitzer Prize Silent night, about a spontaneous ceasefire during the First World War.

Several years after their marriage, O’Keeffe discovered that Stieglitz was cheating on her. She then made the first of her many trips to New Mexico, which has become a longtime inspiration.

Usually tense and convincing, Brightness unfolds in a dozen continuous sections, ranging from the duo’s first tentative exchange to expressions of sexual desire and O’Keeffe’s adoration for New Mexico. In “Taos”, Puts highlights O’Keeffe’s growing independence with bold lines that effectively contrast Stieglitz’s painful nostalgia in “The Thing You Call Holy”.

Puts’ neo-romantic language embraces a variety of influences – echoes of Benjamin Britten and Aaron Copland occasionally surface. Like the title title, the highlights of the full orchestra blaze and the lush passages glow with warmth. Layered brass calls create clusters of pungent tones. And the open sounds in “Sunset” evoke a space similar to that of a cathedral. Led by music director Fabio Luisi, the DSO performed with urgency and fully engaged in modernist effects.

A sin Silent night, Puts writes naturally and lyrically for vocals. Gilfry’s staunch baritone resonated throughout his range. His muffled highs were particularly poignant.

Fleming is a charismatic artist. In “Violin,” about O’Keeffe’s amateur abilities on the instrument, Fleming threw sly glances at the audience, eliciting laughter.

Still, his vocal phrasing was often choppy, with accents landing in weird places. His voice was much less projected than Gilfry’s and tended to lighten up in its low register.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Fabio Luisi, performs “The Brightness of Light” by Kevin Puts with soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Rod Gilfry at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on November 5th. (Nitashia Johnson / Special Contributor)

Designed by Wendall Harrington, the videos projected on a screen featured images of O’Keeffe’s art and photos of the couple, reinforcing the impact of the music. The surtitles were usefully displayed above the videos. The program booklet omitted the name of a movement.

The opening of the program was that of Richard Strauss Metamorphose, completed towards the end of WWII. Marked for 23 strings, it evokes memories of the past in thick and contrapuntal textures.

Luisi challenged the orchestra with adventurous tempo changes, and the musicians responded with sympathy. The set sounded rich and warm throughout, and the reading was tighter than Thursday night’s.

Details

Rehearsal at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. $ 34 to $ 179. 214-849-4376, dallassymphony.org.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Chorus perform under the musical direction of Fabio Luisi, with soloists, from L to R, Kim-Lillian Strebel (soprano), Kelley O'Connor (mezzo), Spencer Lang (tenor) and David Leigh (bass) at Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on November 4, 2021.
Jeri Lynne Johnson conducts the Dallas Symphony Orchestra during a performance of Gospel Goes Classical with the DSO on February 7, 2019.
The Fort Worth Opera Festival's “Silent Night” chronicles a famous Christmas incident on a World War I battlefield in which opposing soldiers lowered their weapons and sang Christmas carols together.


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