Theater Jones Top Ten Concerts of 2016

THEATER JONES
North Texas Performing Arts News

2016 in Review: Music, Part 2
Classical music critic Robin Coffelt remembers her favorite performances of the year.

by J. Robin Coffelt

Larger ensembles in Dallas and Fort Worth had their share of victories in 2016, from the Dallas Opera’s triumphant staging of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick to the end of the Fort Worth Symphony’s three-month-long strike.
But smaller organizations had their share of glorious moments in 2016 as well. Here is a list, in chronological order, of ten of those wonderful moments.

In February, The Cliburn’s American Influence Festival concluded with a marvelous performance by baritone Jonathan Beyer, the Attaca Quartet, pianist Henry Kramer, and others in the Kimbell Art Museum’s Renzo Piano Pavilion. These exceptional musicians performed music of Barber, Ives, Copland, and Liebermann. The program demonstrated the diversity of 20th-century American music in spectacular form.
In April, Dallas’ Orpheus Chamber Singers and Houston’s Ars Lyrica collaborated on an appropriately timed spring Messiah. Orpheus was masterful in this sublime performance. As many times as many listeners have heard this work, a performance of this caliber can only make us fall in love with Handel’s oratorio all over again.
In May, Chamber Music International brought us a recital by clarinetist Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu. This was one of the most delightful surprises of the year for me; this was no mere clarinet recital, but was instead an impressive display of both virtuosity and humor.

Also in May, Voices of Change, directed by Dallas Symphony violinist Maria Schleuning, brought yet another of its programs of contemporary chamber music to Dallas. May’s program featured the music of American composer David Dzubay as well as that of the comparatively familiar Krzystof Penderecki. These fine performances were representative of Voices of Change’s commitment to bringing new chamber music, performed at the highest level, to Dallas.

We often think of summer in DFW as being the “off season” for classical music, but summer festivals give us an opportunity to listen to live classical music all year long. One of these festivals is PianoTexas, which takes place in June and July at TCU. It features some major names in the piano world, performing solo recitals and chamber music concerts. This year in June, Davide Cabassi’s solo piano recital was exceptional, as was a chamber music concert featuring members of the Adkins Quartet, Cabassi, and pianist Vadym Kholodenko.
In July, the Mimir Chamber Music Festival, also at TCU, included an absolutely stellar recital by pianists Alessio Bax and John Novacek, along with cellist Brant Taylor and others. Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata received a fine reading by Taylor and Bax, while Taylor was joined by violinists Stephen Rose and Jun Iwasaki and violist Joan DerHovsepian for Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet.

Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu
Also in July, Dallas’ Basically Beethoven Festival offers a series of free concerts at Dallas City Performance Hall. These concerts are a magnificent gift to the community, and invariably fill the hall. This year, Dallas pianist Alex McDonald directed the summer festival. The highlight was an animal-themed program featuring McDonald’s own two-piano arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This program, which featured mostly short, relatively accessible pieces, is just the sort of thing DFW needs: free or low-cost access to high-caliber, family-friendly performances of classical music.
In October, the Blue Candlelight Music Series, held in a private Dallas home, featured cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi and pianist Alexander Tselyakov in an utterly captivating, intimate recital of Bach, Brahms, Ravel, and Piazzolla. Castro-Balbi’s rich sound and Tselyakov’s pyrotechnics were especially impressive in such close quarters.
Also in October, the Cliburn produced one of the finest programs of the year, featuring the Brentano Quartet and Cliburn gold medalist Haochen Zhang. Since the Brentano Quartet will collaborate with Cliburn finalists during the 2017 competition, this program served as a teaser for what is to come. But it was far more than that: the Brentano Quartet’s performance of Beethoven’s eulogistic Opus 135 quartet was revelatory in its thoughtful brilliance.
Finally, a November offering: Dallas Bach Society’s series of house concerts in Flower Mound and Dallas featured, in the fall, cellist Eric Smith in authentic Baroque performances of Bach’s Cello Suites numbers 1, 3, and 5. Smith will perform the three even-numbered suites in March, which will surely be a treat for the lucky few who score tickets to these in-home concerts. Smith’s interpretation of Bach is an education and a delight.