Dallas — The free Basically Beethoven Festival, held in the summers at Dallas City Performance Hall, is a popular respite from the summer heat. Seats fill up for every performance, with good reason. This is the summer iteration of the Fine Arts Chamber Players, and like those free performances at the Dallas Museum of Art, these concerts feature top-flight players, mostly local musicians, performing chamber works. Sunday’s concert, the first of the festival, was a recital by violinist Chloé Trevor and pianist Jonathan Tsay. Both of these musicians have a strong local presence; Trevor has been a frequent participant in Open Classical DFW performances and with many other area ensembles, while Tsay is Artistic Director of Ensemble 75, a local chamber music group.
These two are excellent ambassadors to bring the under-40 crowd to classical music; they are warm, engaging, and fiercely talented. The program was well-chosen for attention spans of listeners accustomed to three-minute pop songs: the program featured six varied pieces, all less than ten minutes long. This is exactly the kind of program that might encourage audiences who don’t normally listen to classical music to become interested in the genre. The repertoire was mostly what we might think of as encore pieces: Sarasate’s “Introduction and Tarantella”; Wieniawski’s “Legende.” But these very pieces served to underscore Trevor’s prodigious technique. Her performances of the Wieniawski and of Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 in F major (with its strangely anemic piano reduction) showed her lyrical side, but she definitely excels at flash and bravura technique.
While with a couple of exceptions, Brahms’ “Sonatensatz” and Ginastera’s Pampeana No. 1, the violin was definitely at the forefront, Tsay showed himself to be a masterful collaborator, never overbalancing Trevor. I would have loved to hear a solo turn by Tsay, though, even a brief one.
The quirkiest item on the program was a violin and piano arrangement—or, rightfully, arrangements, by two different men—of four dances from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The melodies are familiar to many listeners, but the arrangements were sometimes startling, as when a melodic line unexpectedly passed from violin to piano and back again.
Trevor and Tsay had mostly charming banter in between pieces; telling the story behind the composition of the pieces was an effective, humanizing touch.
Prior to Trevor and Tsay’s recital, two young musicians played a half-hour long “Rising Star” recital. Young teens Marlon Florez on cello and Regina Lin on piano provided a program of Beethoven, Gershwin, and Shostakovich. These are exemplary up-and-comers; I look forward to hearing them again as they mature.
July 16: A Spirited Afternoon
Rising Stars: Yong Ha Jung, viola, has won many awards including Grand Prize of the Schmidbauer Competition, the 2017 Lewisville Lake Symphony Competition, and the 2017 Collin County Young Artist Competition, which have led to multiple orchestral engagements. Patrick Magee, piano, is set to attend Harvard University in the fall. A Grand Prize winner of the 2016 Collin County Young Artist Competition, he has also soloed with the Plano Symphony Orchestra.
Feature Performance: A string sextet presents Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s exuberant Souvenir de Florence. Sean Riley, violin, alumnus of the Juilliard school and former faculty of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London; Grace Kang Wollett, violin, alumna of Juilliard and member of the Dallas Opera orchestra; Rachel Li McDonald, viola, alumna of Juilliard, maintains an active private studio in Plano; Imelda Tecson, viola, Associate Principal viola of the Dallas Chamber Symphony; Jonah Kim, cello, two-time Grammy winner and faculty at Interlochen School of the Arts Summer Festival; Joseph Kuipers, cello, founding member of Marinus Ensemble; and Alex McDonald, piano, Basically Beethoven Festival Director, Juilliard alumnus, and competitor in 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
July 23: Stephen Nielson and Friends
Rising Stars: Daniel Che, piano, recent Grand Prize winner of the Fort Worth Symphony Young Artist Competition, will solo with the FWSO in 2017-2018. Alice Zhang, piano, is a frequent prize winner in regional and state piano competitions.
Feature Performance: Steinway Artist Stephen Nielson, piano, is joined by Dallas Symphony Orchestra member Motoi Takeda, violin, and Caroline Nielson, mezzo soprano, in works by Beethoven, Francis Poulenc, Amy Beach, and two of Mr. Nielson’s own arrangements. Ms. Nielson is a recent graduate of the Eastman School of Music, and has performed nationally on PBS.
July 30: Americana!
Rising Stars: Subin Cho and Hannah Kim, flutists, and Lizhen Wu, piano, is pursuing a doctorate at the University of North Texas.
Feature Performance: A chamber arrangement of Aaron Copland’s masterpiece Appalachian Spring, played by an ensemble including Dallas and Ft. Worth Symphony members, and Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio close the Festival. The musicians are Lucas Aleman, violin (DSO); Mariana Cottier-Bucco, violin (DSO); Shu Lee, violin (DSO); Grace Kang Wollett, violin (Dallas Opera); Christine Hwang, viola (DSO); Rachel Li McDonald, viola; Lesley Cleary, cello (FWSO); Craig Leffer, cello (faculty, UT Arlington); William Clay, bass (FWSO); Margaret Shin Fischer, flute; Jonathan Jones, clarinet (Dallas Chamber Symphony, Las Colinas Symphony); Peter Unterstein, bassoon (FWSO); Buddy Bray, piano, (FWSO); and Daniel Black, conductor (FWSO).