The year 2015 was a lively one on the Metroplex classical music scene. There were lots of splashy, big-budget new productions, including fine new and rarely-staged productions by both Fort Worth and Dallas Operas. Dallas’s premiere of Jake Heggie’s Great Scott and Fort Worth’s production of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet were highlights. Dallas’s rightfully praised SOLUNA Festival made its debut, and the Dallas Symphony returned some outstanding performances. Then there was the bittersweet (Dallas Symphony principal bassoonist Wilfred Roberts retired after 50 years with the orchestra); and the distressing—the Fort Worth Symphony musicians are as of this writing still in protracted contract negotiations with the administration, which is advocating pay cuts.
But smaller groups had many moments of excellence during 2015, as well. Occasional concertgoers may think of symphony and opera performances as delimiting the Metroplex classical scene, but that is far from true. In fact, we suffer from an embarrassment of riches here in Dallas and Fort Worth, with a wide variety of smaller ensembles such as chamber music groups offering an astonishing scope of musical experiences. A few highlights from these smaller groups follow, in chronological order.
Dallas Bach Society’s house party concerts are always a festive evening of merrymaking, good conversation, marvelous food, and of course excellent music, mostly from the Baroque period. The January concert featuring soprano Nell Snaidas and music director and harpsichordist James Richman was an exceptional offering this year, with its mixture of Baroque and Renaissance jewels in an intimate setting with fewer than 50 audience members. This concert series is a special treat for Denton County residents, since the Friday evening concerts are hosted by a Flower Mound couple, Michael Matthews and Kyle Mistrot. These concerts, which include supper, drinks, and valet parking, are well worth the $100 ticket price.
Open Classical DFW and its founder, Mark Landson, continue to innovate in the DFW arts scene. They recruit mostly from the deep pool of Dallas-area musicians for their occasional chamber concerts, then host those concerts at unusual venues such as, in the case of their February program, Times Ten Cellars in Lakewood. On this program, in addition to playing some works by well-known composers including Mahler and Walton, they offered a rare opportunity for local composers to have their work performed.
February was a banner month for chamber performances by University of North Texas alums and faculty. The Madera Wind Quintet, which includes University of North Texas alums, performed a quirky, fun show at the now-closed Banter Bistro in Denton. UNT violin professor Felix Olschofka and pianist Paul Posnak created magic in a house party concert at the Dallas home of Richard and Enika Schulze as part of the Blue Candlelight music series.
In March, Chamber Music International brought local favorites violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Joyce Yang to town for one of the best classical performances of the year. Hadelich and Yang are both exciting young musicians, and their recital was a tour de force.
An April highlight was Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth’s performance of two of the great string sextets—Brahms’s String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. Violinists Alex Kerr and Felix Olschofka, violists Misha Galaganov and Michael Klotz, and cellists Edward Arron and Jason Calloway, electrified their audience at the Museum of Modern Art.
Also in April was a fine concert at the Nasher Sculpture Center, in its Soundings series, by the outstanding young musicians of the Parker Quartet, currently quartet-in-residence at Harvard University, and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum. Their mesmerizing concert featured a variety of contemporary works by Webern, Berio, Tan Dun, and others, plus Beethoven’s Op. 133 Grösse Fuge, which fit right in.
In May, Blue Candlelight glowed again, with Dallas Symphony musicians principal flute DeMarre McGill, principal horn David Cooper, and concertmaster Alex Kerr performing chamber music with Blue Candlelight artistic director Baya Kakouberi. Kakouberi’s theme for the 2014-‘15 season was Women Composers, and each concert featured at least one work written by a woman. Kakouberi gave local audiences regrettably rare opportunities to hear music by these often-neglected composers.
While summer includes far fewer concerts than does the rest of the year, as many performers are off to summer music festivals, teaching opportunities, and the like, there were still a few notable performances. One was cellist Amit Peled and pianist Spencer Myer’s recital as part of the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival. The June recital featured Peled’s recreation of a program Pablo Casals performed exactly 100 years ago, on Casals’s own 1733 Goffriller cello.
One summer highlight in Dallas is the Mimir Chamber Music Festival. This year, a performance in July that included pianist Alessio Bax and violinist Frank Huang, among others, was a particular standout in the festival.
In October, Voices of Change provided a particular standout with its concert that included finalists in the Rapido! composition contest. Notable here was SMU percussion faculty member Drew Lang’s dominating rendition of Andrew Thomas’s “Merlin” for solo marimba.
The November Cliburn Concerts recital by Alessio Bax at the Kimbell Art Museum was another winner in the fall. While the program was traditional to a fault, Bax’s magical versions of standbys such as Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata allowed listeners to hear the oft-played notes with fresh ears.
2015 has been a standout year for chamber groups in DFW. The great news is that 2016 evidences no loss of momentum. So if your go-to for a classical concert is the opera or the symphony, perhaps one of your New Year’s resolutions can be to try out some of these smaller ensembles.
2015: Year in Review
- Monday, Dec. 28 Margaret Putnam's Year in Dance
- Monday, Dec. 28 Cheryl Callon's thoughts on the year in dance
- Monday, Dec. 28 Katie Dravenstott's thoughts on the year in dance
- Monday, Dec. 28 Columnist Danielle Georgiou's Year
- Tuesday, Dec. 29 Gregory Sullivan Isaacs' Year in Classical Music and Opera
- Tuesday, Dec. 29 J. Robin Coffelt's thoughts on the year in classical music
- Tuesday, Dec. 29 M. Lance Lusk's Year in Shakespeare
- Wednesday, Dec. 30 Jan Farrington's thoughts on the year in theater
- Wednesday, Dec. 30 Martha Heimberg's thoughts on the year in theater
- Wednesday, Dec. 30 David Novinski's thoughts on the year in theater
- Thursday, Dec. 31 Amy Martin's thoughts on the year in comedy
- Friday, Jan. 1 Mark Lowry's Year in Theater
- Sunday, Jan. 10 TheaterJones writers look forward to 2016
- Monday, Jan. 11 The top performing arts news of the year