The Best Classical Concert in Dallas This Month Could Happen In Your Living Room


Any list of the best classical concerts to hear in Dallas this August is going to be a short one. Toward the end of the month, the Fort Worth Symphony is putting on a mini festival of music by Brahms and Dvorák (featuring guest soloist Augustin Hadelich on violin). But apart from those three concerts, classical pickings are slim in this month.

A quiet month isn't a bad thing. It's a natural part of the cycle of how performing arts organizations are generally scheduled; think of it as a lull before busy seasons launch in September, or the only real chance for over-scheduled musicians to take a much needed vacation.

The break does give us an opportunity to look outside the box a bit. Besides the symphony, the opera and established chamber groups that follow regular season schedules, where is classical music happening in Dallas?

Last week, I caught the better part of an episode of the Diane Rehm show on NPR that featured a panel of classical musicians, critics and conservatory administrators discussing the future of classical music. Throughout the hour, several panelists mentioned Groupmuse, a new model for classical concerts that's gotten a lot of press recently. Groupmuse connects classical musicians with local hosts who want to put on a relaxed chamber music concert in their home. Think of it as the Airbnb or Lyft of classical concerts.

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The Best Classical Concerts to Hear in Dallas this July

Thanks to the Fine Arts Chamber Players' annual Basically Beethoven Festival, local music fans can get their classical fix this month in the midst of what is otherwise a pretty quiet summer on the classical calendar. Offering a free concert at Dallas City Performance Hall every Sunday in July, the Basically Beethoven Fest usually draws a pretty big crowd for its eclectic summer series. There's chamber music to catch in Fort Worth too, thanks to the Mimir Chamber Music Festival's enticing offerings at Texas Christian University (July 3-11).

Of course, if you're looking for some celebratory cymbal crashes and horn blasts to inspire a little holiday patriotism this weekend, there's plenty of bang to go along with your boom at outdoor concerts at both the Dallas Arboretum and Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Here are the best ways to catch classical music in DFW this month:

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At Oak Cliff Film Festival, a Symphony's Creation Documented

Nathan Felix, left, works on editing his first symphony.

Nathan Felix fell in love with orchestral music on the open road. The leader of Austin-based indie-pop band The Noise Revival Orchestra was just out of college and touring with a punk band when he found himself in a moment of musical exasperation. "One night I was just so furious," he explains, "I didn't want to hear anything from anybody, so I just switched on the local classical music station."

He was instantly hooked. It was the orchestration -- the arrangements of the sounds and how they were distributed among the instruments -- that grabbed his attention and held it. Soon, Felix decided he wanted to write his own symphony. Ignoring the fact that he is not a classically trained musician and had never composed for an orchestra before, he got to work, using textbooks to teach himself how to compose as he wrote the music. He composed during his free time late at night and on the weekends and didn't tell anyone what he was doing. It was "my little secret," he says.

The Curse and the Symphony, a new documentary screening at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bishop Arts Theatre, as part of the Oak Cliff Film Festival, uses Felix's music as both subject matter and soundtrack. In just 20 short minutes, the film traces Felix's often bumpy eight-year journey to not only create his first symphony, but also have it performed and recorded by an orchestra. Scenes of Felix shuffling through piles of rejection letters at the beginning of the film give insight into just how challenging it has been for an indie/punk guy to navigate the unfamiliar territory of the classical music world.

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The Dallas Opera Announces Nicole Paiement as Principal Guest Conductor

Roger Steen
Maestra Nicole Paiement
When The Dallas Opera decided to stage Death and the Powers, Tod Machover's challenging modern sci-fi opera, they called on conductor Nicole Paiement to handle the complex score. Paiement was a smart choice: as Artistic Director of San Fransisco's Opera Parallèl, a professional company dedicated to producing contemporary operas, she's made a name for herself as a conductor, interpreter and champion of new music. If you're looking for a conductor who isn't intimidated by the work required to master a new, strange or obscure piece of music, Paiement is exactly who you want in the pit.

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Review: André Watts in Recital at the Winspear Opera House

OK, Google Glass, show me how to play Liszt like André Watts.

The staff at the AT&T Performing Arts Center snagged a pair of Google Glasses from their partners at the International Association of Venue Managers and tested them out yesterday with pianist André Watts during rehearsal for his Monday night recital. The resulting video (above) is a bit wobbly at times, but how cool is it to see a few minutes of what practice looks like from the perspective of the performer himself?

What I find most interesting in this video is watching Watts "experiment" with the sound of the instrument, listening for the decay of each note and getting to know that specific piano in that specific hall. He's not just practicing patterns of notes. He's carefully crafting sound.

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The Best Classical Concerts to Hear in Dallas this June

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Most classical music organizations are on summer hiatus now, which means concert offerings in Dallas this month are slimmer than usual. That being said, there are a handful of concerts coming up over the next few weeks that feature an interesting break from the norm and a chance to explore music off the beaten path of the downtown arts district. Here's your rundown:

June 2: Legendary Pianist André Watts In Recital
Maybe you first encountered him on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood or maybe you've caught one of his many performances with the Dallas Symphony over the years, but wherever you first saw André Watts play the piano, it was likely a memorable experience. This veteran pianist has been performing professionally since he was just 16 and he looks as comfortable sitting at the keyboard as you do on your couch in front of the TV. On Monday night, presented as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center's recital series, Watts will play a smattering of keyboard works that span the classical canon. The first half of his concert takes us from Scarlatti to Beethoven. After intermission, you'll get to hear the mesmerizing sounds of Debussy's Estampes and romantic staples by Chopin and Liszt. For tickets and more information, visit the AT&T Performing Arts Center's website.

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The Dallas Opera Announces 2014 Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award

Karen Almond, Dallas Opera
Isabel Leonard as Rosina in The Dallas Opera's 2014 "Barber of Seville"
Each year, season subscribers to The Dallas Opera get a chance to vote on their favorite of all the singers who debuted with the company during the previous season. Votes are tallied and the winner receives the "Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year" award. This year's award-winner was no surprise to anyone who saw the company's electric Barber of Seville. Soprano Isabel Leonard stole the show with her mesmerizing performance as Rosina in that production.

See Also: The Dallas Opera's "Barber of Seville" is Campy, Fun and Expertly Sung

Leonard had stiff competition this year from another leading lady who made an impressive TDO debut this season. Mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine was fantastic in Carmen, giving a memorable, passionate performance in the opera's title role. They are both the kind of singers that make old music come alive and feel fresh and new. Leonard, however, does so effortlessly and flawlessly. When you hear her sing, you don't soon forget it.

Leonard is a rapidly rising opera star internationally and Dallas audiences were lucky to get to hear her in the role of Rosina. She was stunning -- the kind of singer who makes even the most difficult music sound easy and who's perfectly lovely tone never waivers. She is also gorgeous and is an incredibly talented actress. Here's hoping we get to see her on stage at the Winspear again in the years to come.

Review: The 2014 Fort Worth Opera Festival

Ellen Appel
The cast of Fort Worth Opera's With Blood, With Ink
Fort Worth Opera's 2014 festival wraps up this weekend with finale performances of two contemporary American operas and a classic comedy by Mozart. There's a lot of room for diversity within the operatic genre and this year's FWO festival has celebrated the wide range of musical and dramatic styles opera can take. In that sense, it has been a real celebration of the ways in which staged song and story speak as an art form.

Watching and evaluating a production of a classic, familiar opera is a really different experience from reviewing a new work. Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, for example, is a classic for a reason. The music is wonderful and the story hilarious. Not all productions of Cosi work, but there is always the potential for it to be great because the underlying elements -- the song and the story -- are great.

With new operas, there's a lot more to consider. Not only are you evaluating a specific production, but you're also evaluating the opera itself. Does the story work? How could it be better? Is it worth producing again? There's also the tricky reality that we as listeners generally like things we've heard before better than things that are new to us. First impressions aren't always accurate ones.

That being said, over the last couple weeks I saw one of the Fort Worth Opera's classic productions (Cosi), and both of the newer works they produced during their busy 2014 festival. You can see the final performances of all three of these operas this weekend. Here's a quick review of each so that you can make an informed decision when picking your operatic poison.

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Yefim Bronfman and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Show Off Dramatic Beethoven

Yefim Bronfman
Just like Barbie®, there are a variety of different Beethovens. There's Classical Beethoven. He's young and playful and optimistic. He takes his cues from Haydn and Mozart, following the formal rules of classicism but always infusing them with his own rhythmic punches. There's Brooding Beethoven -- a personal favorite -- he is all agony and angst and internal struggle. There's Reflective, Sentimental Beethoven. He has the wisdom and perspective that comes with age. And then of course, there's Heroic Beethoven. He's the one who wants to start a revolution.

Of course, the best thing about Beethoven's music is that, in any given symphony or concerto, you can find bits of all of these different personalities. Brooding Beethoven pops up unexpectedly in the middle of a piece that was clearly composed by Classical Beethoven, and even Heroic Beethoven gets sentimental.

This weekend the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is showcasing the Beethoven that most of us know best: Dramatic, Heroic Beethoven. The concert opens with the Coriolan Overture, a quick eight minutes of music that starts with big blasts of sound followed by silence -- one of Beethoven's classic dramatic tricks -- before launching into a propulsive whirlwind of themes.

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The Best Classical Concerts to Hear in Dallas this May

False advertising: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Beethoven Festival continues this month with great music. But no on-stage nip-slips reported yet.
During the summer months, most professional classical musicians pack up their cellos, flutes, bassoons and horns and head to summer music festivals in cooler climes. If you've been meaning to catch an opera or go to the symphony but haven't gotten around to it yet, this month is your last best chance to do so until the fall. With both the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Fort Worth Opera in the middle of major festivals, Bass Hall and the Meyerson Symphony Center are hosting some of the year's best concerts. There is also plenty of chamber music happening on smaller stages and at museums around town. Here are the best classical performances, big and small, to catch this May:

See Also: Don't Miss Fort Worth Opera's 2014 Festival, Opening This Weekend

Running through May 18: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Beethoven
When Beethoven composed his 5th and 9th symphonies, he must have known the tunes he imagined were pretty darn catchy. He may not have realized, however, that his melodies would still be stuck in society's collective ear some two centuries later. There are plenty of reasons to go check out the Dallas Symphony at the Meyerson over the next two weekends, not the least of which is to hear Jaap van Zweden's unique take on Beethoven's 5th Symphony (May 15-18). If it is half as exciting as the 9th Symphony the orchestra performed this weekend, you will get more than your money's worth in electric, imaginative interpretations and superb playing. The chamber concerts the DSO is putting on across the street at the City Performance Hall are also worth checking out. All 10 of Beethoven's violin sonatas will be presented over the course of the next few weeks (May 6, 10 and 17). For more information visit the orchestra's website.

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