For this crusty old critic, the end of 2018 marks thirty-seven years of listening to and writing about live performances of classical music in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. During those decades (decades? Ouch!) I have watched the two distinct but inherently intertwined performing arts communities of Dallas and Fort Worth face economic downturns, booming growth, and the emergence of whole new generations, with new ideas about the place of what we fondly call “classical music” (and equally inaccurately characterize as “western art music”) in their lives.
When I began covering the regional scene in 1980, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was less than a decade past the existential crisis of the early 1970s. World War II refugees and Holocaust survivors were still present on the regional scene. The Soviet Union (remember the Soviet Union?) boycotted the 1981 Cliburn Competition, and the People’s Republic of China sent its first representatives to the same event. Bass Performance Hall, the Meyerson Symphony Center, and the Winspear Opera House were distant, almost inconceivable dreams.
As of the end of 2018, after decades of moments of glory and episodes of crisis, classical music fans in this vast metropolitan area find themselves in an enviable situation. We have access to regular performances by two fine professional orchestras, two professional and high-profile opera companies, and a host of smaller ensembles and organizations focusing on an array of specialties including presentation of renowned guest artists, local artists, alternate performance venues, the guitar, choral music, chamber opera, music for small orchestra, baroque music, and even the Baroque music of the Spanish-American empire of the 17th and 18th centuries. One area organization can boast best-in-the-world status: Fort Worth’s The Cliburn Foundation, the presenter of the Quadrennial Van Cliburn Piano Competition (due for its next edition in 2021).
And 2018 brought a number of memorable events. DSO music director Jaap van Zweden, on his way to his new gig as music director of the New York Philharmonic, said farewell with a number of great concerts, including spectacular renditions of Mahler’s Second Symphony in February and Wagner’s Die Walküre in May. Among guest artist recitals and chamber music appearances, the most impressive were a performance by the Dover String Quartet on the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth’s series at the Kimbell Art Museum, and 2017 Cliburn Competition silver medalist Kenny Broberg’s recital on the same stage in November, sponsored by The Cliburn.
While Fort Worth Opera continues to struggle to find a stable identity, its project of Spanish-language opera flowered with the presentation of Piazzola’s María de Buenos Aires in April; Dallas Opera, with its international profile, presented Bizet’s Carmen in October featuring a winning collaboration between mezzo-soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac in the title role and conductor Emmanuel Villaume—the former certainly one of the great Carmens of our age, the latter one of the great living interpreters of the French operatic tradition.
However, both the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the DSO face transitional seasons ahead. Though orchestras always manage to survive the switch from one music director to another, the interim years can leave a vacuum in both audience loyalty and musical leadership. The DSO’s music director-designate Fabio Luisi, named last June, will not be in place as music director until the fall of 2020, and will not conduct a full schedule until the 2021-22 season. Meanwhile, also in June, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra announced the departure of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, effective at the end of the 2019-20 season after two decades at the helm of that orchchestra. This means that the Fort Worth Symphony, still barely recovered from a bruising musicians’ strike in the fall of 2016, must begin the arduous task of finding Harth-Bedoya’s replacement. These days, it takes as long to replace a music director as to build a new concert hall. But, it has Keith Cerny, formerly of the Dallas Opera, to help guide the transition beginning in January 2019.
On all fronts, all performing arts organizations have learned in recent years not to count on uniform prosperity, particularly with warnings of possible recession once again echoing in news sources. As always, any classical music organization has a responsibility to serve as a guardian for the musical treasures of the past, a discoverer of new works of value, and as an engine of innovation in providing the needs of the always-changing audience.
And, as of 2019, that responsibility may become even more significant.
Seventeen years ago, performing arts organizations stepped forward as a source of comfort and inspiration following the attacks of September 2001. Today, high officials have institutionalized greed, corruption, and cruelty as governmental policy, while verbally attacking the free press. Now, as political turmoil threatens to become worse before it becomes better, classical music, one of the greatest accomplishments of our civilization, can continue to provide a place of refuge in tumultuous times, and, as it has so often done in the past, give the people a representation of what is best in humanity.
2018 YEAR IN REVIEW
Friday, December 28
- The Year in Comedy by Chief Comedy Critic Kevin Beane
- Danielle Georgiou's Sixth Position: A Year of Movement
Saturday, December 29
- The Year in Dance by Chief Dance Critic Cheryl Callon
- The Year in New Dance Works by Katie Dravenstott
- The Year in Dance by Emily Sese
Sunday, December 30
- The Year in Music and Opera by Chief Music and Opera Critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
- The Year in Music and Opera by J. Robin Coffelt
- The Year in Music and Opera by Wayne Lee Gay
Monday, December 31
- The Year in Performing Arts Books by Cathy Ritchie
- The Year in Classical Music Recordings by Andrew Anderson
- The Year in Theatrical Recordings by Jay Gardner
- The Year in Film by Bart Weiss
- The Year in Performing Arts News by Mark Lowry
Tuesday, January 1
- The Year in Theater by Frank Garrett
- The Year in Theater by Jan Farrington
- The Year in Theater by Janice L. Franklin
- The Year in Theater by Martha Heimberg
- The Year in Theater by Jill Sweeney
- The Year in Theater by Teresa Marrero
Wednesday, January 2
- The Year in Theater by Mark Lowry
Thursday, January 3
- A challenge for our readers
Friday, January 4
- Looking ahead to 2019