In the post-war period, no American city has tried harder -- and with more setbacks -- than Dallas to mount a major symphony orchestra. At first there was a good start under Antal Dorati and Walter Hendl, but since then it has been mostly a story of false starts and failed expectations. Rock bottom came about five years ago when an empty treasury forced cancellation of much of a season.
The upshot of that event was to redouble the efforts there to make another try, and Sunday night's concert at the Kennedy Center came as part of the redeveloped ensemble's first trip East to display what it can do. In many ways, it is a new orchestra, dominated by young players, more than a third of them women. The conductor Sunday night was the Mexican Eduardo Mata, who has guided the orchestra into this new phase.
What was heard was a highly disciplined, well-balanced ensemble in which no section was strikingly fine and none notably deficient. While there were no conspicuously wrong notes, such as you might hear on occasion from even the greatest orchestras, there were also not that many of the subtler gradations in tone and dynamics that would make Dallas sound top-flight.
The choice of works could have been better. The complete, one-hour "Daphnis and Chloe'" by Ravel was a mixed blessing: It showed that the Dallas Symphony can handle the most taxing of challenges, but it also showed that the orchestra is not yet the master of the kaleidoscopic shifting of textures that make "Daphnis" one of the most sensual of musical creations.
Before the break, there was the Beethoven "Triple" Concerto with cellist Nathaniel Rosen (the Tchaikovsky contest winner), violinist Eliot Chapo (the Dallas concertmaster) and pianist Yefim Bronfman. The trio was spirited and virtuosic, but since they utterly dominate the work, little was added to one's appreciation of what the orchestra can do.