Wednesday 14 January 2015

Dallas' Top 10 Classical Music Performer 2014: Martin Helmchen

On May 17 2014, Martin Helmchen performed at Dallas City Performance Hall on Beethoven's Archduke program with other musicians; Alexander Kerr, Nathan Olson, and Alisa Weilerstein. Later on that year, this performance is named as the top 10 classical music performances in Dallas, TX, United States.

Classical-music programming in the area remains too unimaginative, but some of our core groups continue to advance in quality and sophistication. Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians complain about music director Jaap van Zweden’s abrasiveness, but the orchestra’s performances go from strength to strength. The Dallas and Fort Worth opera companies commendably pushed their envelopes, and more new operas are in the works.

Most remarkable of all were debuts by three young conductors — Andrés Franco, Karina Canellakis and Michelle Merrill — two as last-minute substitutes.

Augustin Hadelich, Joyce Yang, Jan. 3

Violinist and pianist, these 20-somethings have become area favorites, and deservedly so. Their recital in the Chamber Music International series was brilliantly played and vividly animated, not a note on autopilot.

Alexander Kerr, Nathan Olson, Alisa Weilerstein, Martin Helmchen, May 17

I’ll admit that my eyes rolled when the Dallas Symphony Orchestra trumpeted a Beethoven festival, with a cycle of the composer’s complete violin sonatas, as a Big Deal. Couldn’t we have something a little more imaginative? But the DSO and co-concertmasters Kerr and Olson served up some of the year’s best performances.

A chamber-music concert including the two violinists, cellist Weilerstein and pianist Helmchen was riveting start to finish.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra, May 15

Music director Jaap van Zweden led the most electrifying Beethoven Fifth Symphony I’ve heard anywhere, and, with Alexander Kerr, Alisa Weilerstein and Martin Helmchen, even made the dippy Triple Concerto interesting. The orchestra played stunningly.

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Nov. 16

Formerly the Fort Worth Symphony’s assistant conductor, and still director of the orchestra’s Concerts in the Park series, Andrés Franco got a degree of finesse and expressive sophistication I’d never heard from the orchestra.

The Copland Appalachian Spring Suite was exquisite.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Oct. 4

The DSO rates a second spot in the top 10 list for assistant conductor Karina Canellakis’ unexpected debut, on a day’s notice. When music director Jaap van Zweden had to bow out of the last two performances of a program including the formidable Shostakovich Eighth Symphony, Canellakis stepped in with utter assurance, her every gesture fastidious, but always with a firm overview.

Even allowing for van Zweden’s painstaking preparation, this was the most brilliant conducting debut I can recall.

Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Sept. 28

Presented by St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, this ensemble of 26 Cambridge undergraduates, led by Graham Ross, delivered a mostly British program, including challenging works by Britten, Walton and Jonathan Harvey, with finely honed precision and vivid expressivity.

Meadows Symphony Orchestra, March 19

Southern Methodist University’s student orchestra produces compelling performances under its music director, Paul Phillips. But when Phillips was tapped to replace Jaap van Zweden for a weekend’s run of DSO concerts, one of his protégés, Michelle Merrill, made a distinguished debut with the Meadows.

On short notice, she displayed sure command of Shostakovich’s thorny, and rarely heard, Fourth Symphony.

Fort Worth Opera: ‘Silent Night,’ May 4

Kevin Puts’ 3-year-old opera, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, dramatizes a spontaneous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Staged by Octavio Cardenas, and superbly cast, it got a gripping performance, both dramatically and musically. The Fort Worth Opera Festival also included a smartly sung and dramatized Così fan tutte.

Dallas Opera:‘Death and the Powers,’ Feb. 12

Tod Machover’s sci-fi opera, dividing a cast of characters between known reality and some sort of parallel existence, was quite a stretch for a company not exactly known for adventure. But with a strong cast, including some quite mobile robots, excellent direction and some pretty dazzling high-tech effects, it was a memorable experience.

Nathan Laube, May 20

This young American certainly validated his claims as one of the most brilliant organists out there these days. In a recital at Church of the Incarnation he displayed apparently effortless virtuosity as well as flair and sensitivity.

Scott Cantrell, December 2014, The Dallas Morning News