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Critic’s Choice: Scott Cantrell’s Classical Music Highlights

by Anne Bothwell 30 Dec 2014 9:55 AM

The Dallas Morning News classical critic shares some of his memorable moments from 2014



Jaap van Zweden had a great year. Photo: Bert Hulselmans.

Our Critic’s Choice series continues with Scott Cantrell, classical music critic for The Dallas Morning News.  He shares highlights from his annual Top 10 list.    

The series:


Excerpts and highlights from our conversation:

Highlights from the DSO :

The one with Jaap was an all Beethoven concert including the fifth symphony, the most stunning performance I’ve ever heard, with Alex Kerr, the concert master, and  Alisa Weilerstein the cellist and the pianist Martin Helmchen. They even made the triple concerto, which is a pretty dippy piece, sound like worth listening to

But there was also the incredible concert where the assistant conductor Karina Canellakis substituted on a day’s notice for Jaap on a program  including the Shostakovich 8th symphony, a formidable work for any conductor and she was absolutely in command of it for every second.

Have reported tensions between van Zweden and the orchestra had an impact?

I don’t think so, certainly not audible. It’s hard to be a musician, perform music, if you’re really tense. And I think that’s the complaint musicians have had, that sometimes the rehearsals can get so tense that they don’t feel they can perform their best that way.  You know, I think the situation is not out of control, it’s soluble, and in fact I’ve heard that things are better over the fall than they were in the summer. I certainly hope it can be because Jaap is a phenomenal musician. I think every one of the musicians, even those who’ve had some reservations about treatment in rehearsals, would say he’s a first rate musician.


Silent Night at Fort Worth Opera.

Turning to opera, what were your highlights? 

The two new operas were the compelling stories. The Dallas Opera did this sci-fi opera by Todd Machover called Death and the Powers. If you’re not into sci-fi, the  story may be a little hokey, but then, so are most opera librettos. But it certainly pushed all sorts of envelopes and was technologically very sophisticated. The robots were strangely adorable.

And then the Fort Worth Opera did Silent Night, this recent opera by Kevin Putz that dramatizes that famous on-the-battlefield, cessation of battle during World War I. It was a very powerful piece. Very wonderfully cast and staged. I had to wipe away some tears myself.

Andres Franco 2

Andres Franco


Karina Canellakis

New talent to watch?

This was a year for amazing debuts by three young conductors.

Andres Franco, who has been the assistant for the Fort Worth Symphony, is no longer, though he retains a relationship with them, did his first main season performance with them. He had that orchestra playing on a level of finesse  and elegance that I’d never heard from them. It’s a very good orchestra, but he brought this whole new level of suavity to the performance.

I mentioned Karina Canellakis, substituting on a day’s notice for Jaap, on a very difficult program.


Michelle Merrill

The third one I’d mention, Michelle Merill, who substituted for Paul Phillips with the Meadows Symphony when Paul was called in to substitute for Jaap on another concert. She was a protege of Paul’s and conducted another very difficult Shostakovich symphony, the 4th, with real authority. Three very impressive conductor debuts here.

Any expectations for the DSO’s Soluna International Arts and Music Festival in May?

It’s certainly a mind-boggling quantity of performances and I looked at it and thought, well, there’s going to be no rest for Scott in the month of May.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out because I find that during May, people get tired of going to concerts, the weather’s nice, and they want to be outdoors more. We’ll see how it does for audiences.

There are a lot of chamber music performances including DSO musicians. And some interesting repertory we haven’t heard.  The vague focus is composers and musicians who came to this country from abroad, most of them as a result of Hitler and Stalin. That’s an interesting focus but it’s a little vague. As things evolve, I think there will be more focus.

You’ve written quite a bit about the need for music groups to reimagine programming.

I think the usual model of “one from column A, one from column B,” that format really needs to be examined. I think you can make concerts much more interesting if they have a thematic focus. You could say ‘music from Paris from the 1930s’ or ‘American composers during the Depression.’ A program of Mozart and Stravinsky, classical period and neo classical. It strikes me that these would be so much more stimulating and would even be easier to market, because it would have a focus, and not just another symphony concert.

I would love to see more cooperation and collaboration among the various organizations in the arts district, particularly now that the Dallas Opera is next door to the Dallas Symphony. It’s astonishing to me that they’ve never done any collaborative programming. When the Dallas Opera did Die tote Stadt, the Korngold opera, that would have been the perfect opportunity for the Dallas Symphony to do say, the  Korngold symphony, which is a tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You could do a whole festival of Shakespeare, and obviously have the Dallas Theater Center, and the Opera could do a whole season of operas based on Shakespeare; there are all these tone poems the Dallas Symphony could do, the Dallas Museum of Art could do a display of Elizabethan period art and costume.

I just think this would create a sort of energy in the Dallas Arts District that we haven’t had.