Most classical music organizations (the opera, symphony, etc.) follow an academic calendar with regularly scheduled concerts from September through May, which means that that come June, musicians get paid to skip town and head to summer camp (read: summer music festivals in more temperate locales like Colorado, upstate New York, Sante Fe, California, etc.).
Awesome for them. Unfortunately for Dallasites, our city's summertime classical offerings are pretty paltry. With the orchestra out of town in Vail and the opera and other vocal and chamber groups on vacation, it's getting pretty quiet around here. But there's an oasis in this artistic desert: the Fine Arts Chamber Players' annual Basically Beethoven festival.
The festival, which focuses on chamber music (works for small ensembles), puts on a free concert every Sunday afternoon in July in the Texas Discovery Gardens' Grand Hall in Fair Park. While the space is a bit large for a traditional chamber music concert and not acoustically ideal, it is flooded with natural light from ample windows that frame an idyllic backdrop of lush greenery populated by floating butterflies.
When you arrive at the hall, friendly attendants offer you a complimentary beer (why, thank you) to enjoy before and during the performance. (Why can't more classical venues allow in-concert beverages? Beethoven pairs really well with a little alcohol. And we're big kids. We'll try not to spill.
The feature performance each week begins at 3 p.m. and is preceded by a Rising Star Recital at 2:30. Two weeks ago, when I attended, the rising star was Adam Phan, a 14-year old harpist who gave an artistic and technically skilled performance. This Sunday, July 22, the pre-concert recital will feature another young virtuoso, 11-year old violinist Claire Luan Wells, performing Barber's Concerto for Violin with pianist Christina Kim.
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You'll want to arrive early to hear this sure-to-be-impressive performance. But you need to arrive early anyway. The doors open at 2 and the space fills to capacity quickly. If you come late (even at 2:30), you might end up squeezed into the back corner, where squeaking folding chairs and crying babies are more audible than the music.
The title of the series -- Basically Beethoven -- is a play on a summer music festival in New York called Mostly Mozart. While Beethoven is certainly the most represented composer in this month's concerts, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, Boccherini and others are also on the bill.
This Sunday, though, Beethoven is the star. Pianist Baya Kakouberi will perform selected Beethoven works and the Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, violinist Gary Levinson, will lead a performance of Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20 for winds and strings. As you listen to the ensemble, notice the bass player; Eugene Levinson, the New York Philharmonic's principal bassist until his retirement, is also Gary's dad.
Plus, you know: BEER.