During the summer months, most professional classical musicians pack up their cellos, flutes, bassoons and horns and head to summer music festivals in cooler climes. If you've been meaning to catch an opera or go to the symphony but haven't gotten around to it yet, this month is your last best chance to do so until the fall. With both the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Fort Worth Opera in the middle of major festivals, Bass Hall and the Meyerson Symphony Center are hosting some of the year's best concerts. There is also plenty of chamber music happening on smaller stages and at museums around town. Here are the best classical performances, big and small, to catch this May:
Running through May 18: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Beethoven When Beethoven composed his 5th and 9th symphonies, he must have known the tunes he imagined were pretty darn catchy. He may not have realized, however, that his melodies would still be stuck in society's collective ear some two centuries later. There are plenty of reasons to go check out the Dallas Symphony at the Meyerson over the next two weekends, not the least of which is to hear Jaap van Zweden's unique take on Beethoven's 5th Symphony (May 15-18). If it is half as exciting as the 9th Symphony the orchestra performed this weekend, you will get more than your money's worth in electric, imaginative interpretations and superb playing. The chamber concerts the DSO is putting on across the street at the City Performance Hall are also worth checking out. All 10 of Beethoven's violin sonatas will be presented over the course of the next few weeks (May 6, 10 and 17). For more information visit the orchestra's website.
May 10: The Fort Worth Opera Presents Kevin Puts' Pulitzer-Winning Opera, Silent Night Kevin Puts' Silent Night is one of the best 21st-century operas a local opera company has produced in recent memory. It has all the makings of an instant classic -- a beautifully complex musical score that is tuneful, dramatic and creative, and a compelling story that unfolds seamlessly with plenty of big, memorable musical moments. The Fort Worth Opera's production is stellar, too. With a strong cast and a constantly moving, morphing set, there is never a dull moment. This is a distinctly modern opera that draws on musical tradition without sounding stale. It is also an opera that makes a statement: War is futile and avoidable and music and human empathy are powerful forces. While the rest of the Fort Worth Opera fest is worth checking out, this production is a must-see. Tickets available here. Grab them while they last.
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May 10: Chamber Music International Presents Music for Flute, Strings and Harp CMI's season finale concert features some beautifully intimate music for flute and strings by Mozart and Debussy. Brahms' String Sextet No. 2 in G Major rounds out the program. Tickets are affordable -- ranging from $10-$35 -- and are available online or by calling 972-385-7267.
May 13: The Cliburn Foundation Presents Barry Douglas at Bass Hall Irish pianist Barry Douglas took home a bronze medal at the 1985 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and has since had a successful international career as both a pianist and conductor. The Cliburn welcomes Douglas back to the Bass Hall stage on May 13 for a solo recital featuring music by Brahms and Schubert. This is the last Cliburn Foundation recital of the season. Tickets available at www.cliburn.org.
May 12, 13 and 15: Learn from a Master: Watch Pianist Leon Fleisher Coach Van Cliburn Competition Finalists The Nasher Sculpture Center's new music series, Soundings, closes its 2013/2014 season with a compelling tribute to the late pianist Van Cliburn. The May 15 concert features six pianists -- all former participants in Cliburn's namesake piano competition -- playing a game of musical piano benches as they take turns, two at a time, performing Olivier Messiaen's dark atonal soundscape, Visions de l'Amen for Two Pianos. In an homage to Cliburn's fabled cold-war era performance of Tchaikovsky's piano concerto in Moscow, the Juilliard String Quartet will reunite with pianist Leon Fleisher to perform Brahms' Piano Quintet. Fleisher and the quartet first recorded this piece over 50 years ago, around the sound time that Cliburn's career was at its height. Now in his late 80s himself, Fleisher is a master of his instrument, and this is a rare opportunity to hear him perform in an intimate setting with one of America's great quartets. Unfortunately, tickets for this concert are already sold out, but you can put your name on a waiting list by calling Jim Parks at 214-242-5100. Fleisher will also be coaching the Cliburn pianists on Monday and Tuesday May 12 and 13 on campus at Texas Christian University. The master classes are open to the public. If you've ever been curious about what goes into preparing highly complex piano music, this is your chance to get a peek behind the curtain as well as see a master teacher at work.
May 17: Ex mus Presents New Music by Texas Composer/Performers at Centraltrak Centraltrak's ex mus concert features music that Brent Fariss, Charles Underriner and Travis Weller wrote for each other's instruments. "New Music from the Balcones Fault" celebrates the sometimes shaky land under our feet, featuring pieces for guitar, upright bass and violin with names like "A Field of Bluebonnets," and "Dry Lines." This is a uniquely intimate way to encounter the sounds of fresh, local composers and a great reminder that "classical" music often has as much to do with the here and now as the distant past.