Now Hear This: an Interview with Alex McDonald, Festival Director and pianist

Dr. Alex McDonald is well-known to our audience as the Basically Beethoven Festival Director: if you’ve attended the concerts you have heard his introductions, his phenomenal playing, and his groan-inducing musical puns. Here he gives our audience insight into the 2019 Festival and the June 21 program in particular, when he will be one of the Featured Performers.

Where did the name Basically Beethoven come from?   When FACP Co-Founder Rogene Russell founded the concert series, Mostly Mozart had been making waves in New York City for more than a decade. I think that’s where the alliterative part of the name came from. As to why ‘Beethoven,’ I think he was chosen because of his incredible appeal, passion, and his role at a turning point in the development of art music.

Why come to Basically Beethoven? What if someone doesn’t know much about classical music?                Firstly — its free! But perhaps more importantly, Basically Beethoven has great music of all kinds! We hope to have something for everyone: from the humorous to the profound, the sweet to soulful, sad to joyful. Our programming features both treasured classics to new, award-winning works. And, as an added bonus, our world-class artists are local. If the performance inspires you to want to know more or even pursue your own musical journey, the performers live relatively close by! 


Is there a specific piece being performed for the Festival this year that you’re particularly excited about?            I am excited to present Schumann’s piano quintet – which is a long-time favorite. And the chance to perform Beethoven’s  Piano Trio op. 1, no 1 (his first published work) is very exciting to me. 

What’s your job like as festival director? Do you have a favorite part of the gig – programming, performing, people, etc.?     This is an easy one. My favorite part by far is just listening to the music! Moody is such a great performance space, and the artists are such incredible communicators. The repertoire they choose is a wonderful extension of who they are as people. It feeds my soul and challenges me to go practice!

There are a lot of composers featured throughout the festival other than Beethoven. How do you decide who and what to program every week?     I always like to hear from the artists about what they want to play. To me, this helps keep the sense of creativity and interest and variety.

2020 will be Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the 40th annual Basically Beethoven Festival. Are there big plans in the works, and can you offer a sneak peak of anything to come?    There are big plans! No hints yet – but stay tuned. We are beyond excited at what is to come. 


Now Hear This: an Interview with Evan Mitchell and Jonathan Tsay, piano

Evan and Jonathan not only share a stage but a piano at the second concert of the 2019 Basically Beethoven Festival on Sunday, July 14. The program features music for “piano four hands” which is when two pianists share one instrument. They’ll be sharing the stage as performers for the first time for our Festival audience! They sat down after a rehearsal for our Q&A to give an insider’s look at what they’re doing and how they got here.


How old were you when started studying piano, and when you realized you could be a professional musician? JONATHAN: I started studying piano at 5 ½ years old – the realization that I could be a professional musician happened well after it probably should have, right after undergrad when I got my first significant paycheck from doing outreach concerts with The Cliburn (for the Cliburn in the Classroom program) for the first time. EVAN: I started at age 7. I was fortunate never to have had teachers or my parents say I couldn’t be a professional musician. I started to consider it more seriously in seventh or eighth grade after attending a competition held at a conservatory, when it hit me the students there pretty much did this full-time.

On the 14th, you two will be playing several pieces originally written for full orchestra. Can you explain what an arrangement is? EVAN: An arrangement is basically when someone has taken a piece of music and rewritten it, without changing the notes, for different performing forces. Sunday’s program all went from orchestral to piano settings, but the opposite happens frequently as well, where a piece (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, for instance) starts as a piano work and is expanded for a larger ensemble. 

Do you all have experience arranging music yourselves? JONATHAN: I guess that’s sort of a yes and no answer for me. The extent of arranging for me is taking a piece that has already been reduced for piano (usually concerto accompaniment reductions) and adding or subtracting elements here and there based off of what I think sounds closer to the original orchestral texture. There’s a bit more leeway with the actual notes on the page when dealing with arrangements/transcriptions than say, a Beethoven Sonata.

What is different about learning/performing pieces like this (originally written for large ensembles) than for a more standard piano work? EVAN: With one person playing a solo piano work, there’s a degree of flexibility often built into the way the music is written — especially in the Romantic period — and sometimes added at the performer’s discretion. A large ensemble, though, has such inertia that changes in speed need to be really proportional. Think: the difference between a jet-ski and a cruise ship. To play in a fluid way and evoke all the colors of the orchestra, without some of the flexibility you’d normally have when interpreting music at the keyboard, is tricky.

How did the two of you meet and start collaborating? JONATHAN: Evan and I met while doing Cliburn in the Classroom (Evan as the pianist and me as host), and while we had been doing different concerts together for The Cliburn and Ensemble75, this concert Sunday will be the first time (out of many, hopefully) that we share the stage both as performers.

What makes playing piano four hands (two pianists sharing a keyboard) unique or special versus two pianists on two pianos performing one piece? JONATHAN: Real estate. Pianists are so very used to having the entirety of the keyboard (and the bench!) to themselves that once another body is added to a single keyboard, all of the angles (arms/hands/feet relative to the piano) change. Quite often there will be passages that require one person to play a note and then cede the note to the partner much quicker than if they were to be playing alone — a significant part of rehearsal is spent working out the choreography/traffic jam. On the plus side, the individual parts are usually a bit easier to learn and I have learned quite a bit from Evan during rehearsals, which is one of the main reasons I collaborate with people. EVAN: You really have to play as one, which is harder in some ways than playing as two polished performers in dialogue. The way you have to balance sounds across one keyboard, sometimes while contorted into pretty uncomfortable positions, is deceptively difficult.

Last year we had a program featuring two pianists on two pianos. Why would a composer choose to write something with pianists sharing one keyboard? JONATHAN: Like, pianos are expensive, man. Composing/arranging for one piano (whether it’s for one or two pianists) rather than two pianos increases the likelihood of it being performed. EVAN: But a full orchestra is expensive-er. And that’s exactly why many of these pieces were arranged for four-hand piano in the first place; before the advent of recorded sound, this was the only way for most folks to experience this music aside from hearing an orchestral performance.

The pieces you all will perform are all connected in a few ways: they have been in movies or TV shows, were all written in the 19th century; how did you choose your program for Basically Beethoven this year? JONATHAN: Very basically, I asked Evan about some pieces that would be a good fit with the Debussy (which I had performed before, but the two-piano version) and we negotiated around some works and they all happened to share the “outdoorsy” theme. EVAN: They’re all crowd-pleasers, which makes it fun for the audience. They also all happen to rely a lot for their effectiveness on orchestral colors and different timbres, which is a rewarding challenge for us to have to recreate on the piano.

What type of music did you listen growing up? What do you listen to now? JONATHAN: I listened to lots of things growing up — I think if you look up my Now Hear This from 2016 there’s a Dolly Parton story in there (Editor’s Note: indeed, there is!). It ranged from classical to alternative rock to whatever Taiwanese karaoke hits my parents sang. My current collection in my car (SD card reader is amazing) includes Radiohead, Hiromi Uehara, OutKast, Bill Evans, The Roots, other random collections of songs made for various road trips from artists I couldn’t name, as well as CDs of music of Lowell Liebermann, Evgeny Kissin’s 1984 debut performing both Chopin concerti, and the Cezanne Quartet’s album of music by Kevin Puts, Mendelssohn, and Bartok. That’s some of what I listen to when/if I’m not listening to a podcast. EVAN: I grew up right outside New York and loved going to jazz clubs throughout middle and high school, and whenever I’m back that way to visit. Classical’s always been part of it, especially from my high school years onward. I recently made a trip to Houston, and I’d say the drive was divided between Punch Brothers, Nas, and Tchaikovsky.

What piece or recording should everyone have in their music library? EVAN: Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing the Rachmaninoff Fourth Concerto; Murray Perahia playing anything by Mozart or Bach. JONATHAN: Carlos Kleiber – Tribute to a Unique Artist.

Which piece are you most excited to perform on the 14th? EVAN: Probably the Mussorgsky. A Night on Bald Mountain is lots of fun, and with such a catchy opening, it’s one of those pieces that everyone, even musicians, thinks they know but may not actually be all that familiar with all the way through. JONATHAN: The Rossini. I have basically one moment that I need to get around (the first part of the Lone Ranger theme – harder than I expected!) and then I get to sit back and watch Evan sweat out all the hard parts.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Shields Bray, piano

You may know Shields Bray as principal keyboard of the Forth Worth Symphony Orchestra (he’s held the position since 1986) and as host of the FWSO pre-concert discussion series (since 1993). Get to know him this Sunday, July 30, as a critical piece of the chamber music ensemble for our final Basically Beethoven Festival concert “Americana!”


Bray, Buddy 2017 bwWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? They’re all such beauties, but I’m especially attached to Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio. It appeals to musicians because it’s so well-written, and to audiences because it communicates so directly. That’s true of all her work. The Bernstein clarinet sonata is perfect in front of the trio: it’s one of his earliest pieces, and one of his most appealing. He knew the character of instruments, and how to bring that character forth. Copland was one of Bernstein’s mentors, so I like having that connection in the program. Appalachian Spring is, of course, one of the great achievements in American music. It started life as a ballet for Martha Graham, and it really has never been out of the mainstream since. 

As a pianist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? Learning to play the piano is such a solitary pursuit, and pianists don’t generally have large-ensemble experience when we’re young. It’s why I love playing with instrumentalists and singers. I love that shared experience. It’s also why, after 30 years, I still really love orchestral playing. I like being part of a bigger effort.

How old were you when you started playing piano? Why did you choose it? Did you learn other instruments? I was 8 when I started, which is about four years late, really. I think it chose me. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? I listened to top 40 until midway through high school, and then I suddenly didn’t listen to the radio anymore. Now I do, but to NPR. For music, I listen to singers, mostly. There’s something about the human voice – the immediacy of it, the warmth.

You are based in Fort Worth. What would surprise out-of-towners about Fort Worth? I love Fort Worth. I love that, as a city, it gets behind its arts and stays behind them. I love that Forth Worth has a feeling for its history, too. 

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical pianist like? I wonder if there IS a typical pianist! We do practice an awful lot, and most pianists talk about pianos and what goes on under the hood. 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? To listen to: Mozart. That’s perfection. I played him a lot when I was young, and I hope I’ll get back to him when I’m 70 or so. He’s a lot to live up to. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve jumped at every chance to play Messiaen. He’s a real original, and I’m fascinated by him.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? My favorite sound is the ocean. My least favorite sounds are sirens of all kinds.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? I want to hear Mozart play the piano!


Now Hear This: an Interview with Stephen Nielson, piano

Steinway artist Stephen Nielson headlines Sunday’s Basically Beethoven Festival concert, “Stephen Nielson & Friends,” on July 23. He’ll share the stage with violinist Motoi Takeda, the Associate Concertmaster Emeritus for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and with Caroline Nielson. Ms. Nielson is not only an accomplished mezzo-soprano in her own right – she happens to be Mr. Nielson’s daughter! Continue reading to learn about Sunday’s performance and to get to know Mr. Nielson.


Nielson, Stephen pianoWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? The entire program! It is a special treat for me to be on the same concert stage in Dallas with my daughter, Caroline. We’ve purposed to provide the audience with the treat of music for violin/voice/piano, violin/piano, voice/violin, voice/piano – mixing it up, for sure!

As a pianist, what do you love about chamber music? The interaction of the players in an intimate setting; discerning a composer’s weaving of thematic material between the instruments.

How old were you when you started playing piano? As I often say: about nine months before I was born, since my mother was a pianist, church musician, and teacher. I demonstrated an early affinity for the piano and never considered other instruments simply because commitment to serious piano study was so consuming.

What type of music did you listen to as a child, and what do you listen to now? What type of music did you share with your children when they were growing up? Always classical. On Sunday mornings my father played recordings – LPs, you know! – of the legendary organist E. Power Biggs and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Musical education for our two daughters was in place from the beginning. I took our older daughter, Christiana, to her first opera at age 6 – the Dallas Opera’s presentation of Hansel and Gretel.

You have been based in Dallas for most of your career. What would surprise out-of-towners about the Dallas area? What’s your “hidden gem” in Dallas? Except for undergraduate and graduate years at Indiana University School of Music and then seven years as Artist-in-Residence at a college in the Chicago area, Dallas has been my “home base.” Out-of-towners are frequently surprised by the richness of the musical offerings and activity in the North Texas area. Hidden gems? Marvelous people and relationships plus fantastic food possibilities forever changing!

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments. What would you say a typical pianist like? There is no typical pianist, I think. Though as a Steinway Artist I play Steinways often, sometimes in out-of-the-way locales that is not possible, and I must adapt to what the sponsor provides. In piano circles, such a piano is sometimes cynically referred to as a “P.S.O.” – piano shaped object. I’ve played my share of those!

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Difficult to answer on both counts! I like the composer whose music I am preparing for the next concert. I’m probably a romanticist at heart, but am overwhelmed by the mathematical brilliance and symmetry of Bach, the depth of Brahms, and the color of the great Impressionists, Debussy and Ravel. I also love the great choral masterpieces of Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mahler, Fauré and Duruflé.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? Favorite is the sound of Caroline’s voice! Least favorite – the yard crew mowing and blowing just outside my studio windows when I’m practicing or teaching.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? Hands down –  “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Handel’s Messiah.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Joseph Kuipers, cello

Based in Richardson, cellist Joseph Kuipers is an in-demand international performer, hitting stages in Quebec, Germany, Italy, and closer to home. He joins several other local musicians on the Basically Beethoven Festival concert on July 16, “A Spirited Afternoon.” Read below to get to know Mr. Kuipers, and click HERE to watch performance clips.


2017-07-16 Joseph Kuipers promo shotWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? I must say Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence – the melodies are truly gorgeous, almost embarrassingly beautiful!

As a cellist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? I like to view all music as chamber music – meaning an interaction between musicians! When I play a Bach solo, I see myself as playing trios between the voices all on my cello. In orchestra, I try to breathe and move with the other musicians on stage. That said, in chamber music the cello plays a role of being an individual, yet the foundation of the group with our occasional singing solos grabbing the spotlight.

Why did you choose the cello? The sound, of course! There is something so human about the sound of the cello. The range encompasses the rich, dark tones of a bass, through the sensuous tenor and alto range, up to the soaring heights of a soprano. Although, I must admit, my earliest memory of the cello is an old black and white photograph of my grandfather Percival Harding with his cello, and its appearance simply attracted me. I just felt drawn to it, and still have an immediate closeness to everything about the cello.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? I grew up in a religious family, so much of the music were the great old Protestant hymns of the Reformation. That certainly influenced me to be drawn to the pure, early music of Bach, and Gibbons. Later as I studied composition, I went through phases of being obsessed with radically different composers and styles of music. Now I listen to music that makes me feel – music that gives me a heartbeat! From Ivry Gitlis playing Tchaikovsky to Johnny Cash

How long have you lived and performed in Dallas? What would surprise out-of-towners about Dallas? I’ve been based in Dallas since 2012. The cultural scene in Dallas is exploding and draws some of the most brilliant artists of our time!

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical cellist like? We love beautiful melodies, singing out the sound, and enjoying every note. We also love to socialize and sometimes this is not a good fit for diligent practicing.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Who/whatever I am playing at the moment.

What’s your favorite sound? Least favorite? Favorite sound would be the harmony of human voices, least favorite is complaining.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? I have an imagination of the sound of Archangels singing like the Elves from the “Lord of the Rings” in some otherworldly language, tonality, and sound … where the sound becomes almost visible. That would be my hope to hear!

 


Now Hear This: an Interview with Chloé Trevor, violin

Chloé Trevor travels the world as a solo violinist, and lives her life as an ambassador for the instrument, particularly to young audiences and members of her generation. Ms. Trevor will be joined on stage by pianist Jonathan Tsay for the July 9 Feature Presentation, “Dances & Romances,” opening the 2017 Basically Beethoven Festival. Read below to get to know the artist, and click HERE to sample some audio clips of Ms. Trevor.


 

Trevor, Chloe 2017 (violin)What piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? I’m most excited for Prokofiev’s four pieces from Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev is one of my all-time favorite composers and this piece embodies a lot of my favorite musical characteristics of his. There’s a lot of intensity and sardonic wit alongside extremely elegant and heart-rendering melodies. I hope the audience members can pick out different characters from the story as we go through the movements.

As a violinist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? I love playing chamber music because to me it feels like a combination of playing in a symphony and playing as a soloist at the same time. You can’t quite get that feeling doing anything else — it’s really special, especially when you get to play alongside some of your closest friends.

How old were you when you started playing violin? Why did you choose it? Did you learn other instruments? I started playing the violin when I was 2. My parents saw me reaching for my mom’s violin when she would practice and so they eventually found a tiny — but real! — violin for me to play. My mom was my first teacher for the first few years of my studies. I began taking piano lessons when I was 6.

What type of music did you listen to as a child, and what do you listen to now? As a kid I listened to classical music, non-stop. Now I listen to classical music, non-stop. It’s what makes me feel the most comfortable and at home. Every so often I might put on some j-pop [Japanese pop music] though.

You grew up in the Dallas area. What would surprise visitors about Dallas? What’s your “hidden gem” in Dallas? I’m not sure what would really surprise people about Dallas, except that very few people who live here have Texan accents. At least that’s what people always seem to be surprised about when they find out I’m from Texas! But my “hidden gem” in Dallas would probably be the Bishop Arts District, or some of the many amazing coffee shops such as Mudsmith, Pearl Cup, or 1418 Coffeehouse. I really like coffee. And pie. Go to Emporium Pies!

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical violinist like? I think a lot of us are very “high-strung.” I know that’s true for me though I combat it as much as possible. We’re also extremely analytical in and out of music, which can be annoying at times (because our brains can’t ever turn off), but does definitely have its benefits — especially when you want to make sure something is done right the first time.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Probably Prokofiev and Shostakovich for both.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? My favorite sound is rain, and my least favorite is the sound of people chewing.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? Definitely a recital by my late violin teacher, Arkady Fomin.


Inaugural scholarships from Rogene Russell Fund awarded

Young composer and promising pianist receive Rogene Russell Scholarships

Supporters of Fine Arts Chamber Players help musicians begin college on positive note

We are proud to announce Quinn Mason and Kenoly Kadia as the recipients of the first annual Rogene Russell Scholarship Fund. Mason, an award-winning young composer, will attend Texas Christian University in the fall. Kadia is a pianist and plans to attend the University of Texas. Both are graduates from Dallas ISD: Mason from North Dallas High School in 2015, Kadia from David W. Carter High School in 2017.

Scholarship recipients Quinn Mason (left) and Kenoly Kadia (right) flank donors Norma and Don Stone.

Scholarship recipients Quinn Mason (left) and Kenoly Kadia (right) flank donors Norma and Don Stone.

“I am very honored and grateful to receive this generous gift, as I could not have paid the tuition myself,” said Mason. “I am hoping that this college education will allow me to provide a comfortable living for myself, and allow me to provide for my mother. I plan to reach new heights in music and do important things that will make an impact on future generations. I will work to the best of my ability to make the Stones proud that they invested in my education.”

The scholarship was established at The Dallas Foundation in March 2016 by longtime FACP supporters Don and Norma Stone, and it was named in honor of Rogene Russell, the artistic director and cofounder of FACP.

“We were overwhelmed by the number of talented candidates who applied for the first year of the Rogene Russell Scholarship Fund, and are eager to see the progress that Quinn and Kenoly will make in their college music studies,” explained FACP Executive Director Rachel Assi.

Applications were considered by a committee representing FACP, Southern Methodist University, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, The Dallas Foundation, and the local philanthropic community. After the initial review of material, select applicants were asked to perform for or present their compositions to the committee for further consideration.

Rogene Russell added, “FACP has been honored to support Kenoly and Quinn in their pre-college artistic growth. As anyone currently attending college knows, the cost of tuition is daunting. Through the vision and generosity of Norma and Don Stone, these scholarships will enable Kenoly and Quinn to pursue a college education without the burden of immense debt.”

“I am very grateful for all the support that I have had from FACP,” echoed Kadia. “I am very humbled and honored to receive the scholarship. I intend to use this scholarship to the best of my ability, and hopefully one day I will be an inspiration to others and be an asset in the music industry.”

Since the Fund was established in 2016, the Stone’s initial $500,000 gift has grown by 38%, totaling $691,000 through additional contributions.

“Our highest hope,” Mr. Stone stated, “is that the fund will increase to at least $1 million to provide support for the college careers of other young aspiring musicians in future years.”

“Don and I know this scholarship has made a huge impact on the ability of these two winners to continue their music education,” added Mrs. Stone. “How many other gifted youngsters such as Quinn and Kenoly can we help in the future?”

“The Dallas Foundation manages a variety of scholarship funds made possible by the generosity of our donors,” said Mary Jalonick, president and CEO of The Dallas Foundation. “For many students, these scholarships can be a valuable resource that allows them to achieve lifelong dreams. We’d like to extend our sincerest congratulations to Quinn and Kenoly, and special thanks to Don and Norma Stone, as well as Fine Arts Chambers Players, for their continued leadership and commitment to nurturing the future leaders of the arts community.”

For more information about contributing to the Rogene Russell Scholarship Fund, please contact Dallas Foundation Grants Officer Lynsie Laughlin at 214-741-9898 or llaughlin@dallasfoundation.org; or visit DallasFoundation.org, click on “I’d like to give to a fund,” then search for “Rogene Russell Scholarship Fund.”


Teacher Profile: Sarah Kienle, viola

Violist Sarah Kienle teaches beginning violin for 20 fourth graders at Peak Preparatory Academy, an East Dallas charter school. The FACP violin program at Peak, which just concluded its fifth year, is the only music program on campus and fourth graders are the youngest students to participate in our program. Ms. Kienle has taught for FACP for two years and, in general, her students are not only receiving violin instruction for the first time, but it is their first exposure to music class.

Kienle, Sarah 2017How old were you when you started playing? Do you play other instruments? I’m a “full-blood” violist and started playing at age 7. I took six years of piano lessons when I was young and I can still find my way around a keyboard, albeit a little clumsily.

So, your instrument is viola, but you’re teaching violin. Is there a lot of crossover between the two instruments? Both playing and teaching violin and viola are very similar. In fact, it is not uncommon for violinists to switch to viola or play both. Every once in a while, a violist will switch to the violin. They are held and played the same way, although there are some minor idiosyncrasies to each instrument that require a little adjustment. The viola is slightly larger than the violin and rather than having E, A, D, G for strings, violas have A, D, G, C. Viola music is also written with the alto clef, or C-clef, although sometimes our music switches to treble clef when there is a risk of too many ledger lines (it gets difficult to read because it is too high).

What did you study in college, and where did you study? I received my Bachelor of Music in viola performance from the Colburn School and my Master of Music in viola performance from Indiana University. My outside major in college was beginning violin and viola pedagogy — I love to teach beginning violin.

Who is your favorite composer to play? Beethoven.

What do you love about teaching young violin students? Their excitement! Violin is still so new and fascinating to them and it’s inspiring to see.

Have you taught other ages? I have taught ages 8 – 65.

What is a particularly memorable recital or performance of yours? I’ll never forget my first experience playing a real symphony when I first moved away from home. My youth orchestra was playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, and I was blown away by the experience of sitting in the middle of such a powerful sound.

What piece of advice would you give 11-year-old Sarah? Always make sure to have FUN while you play!

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? I love the sound of choirs, especially small ensembles or those singing early music. My least favorite sound is any sound that wakes me up when I’m sleeping.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? I’m excited to see what the old masters (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven) do with today’s music technology.


2017 Basically Beethoven Festival announced

37th annual series presents students, professional musicians in free concerts

2017 BBF logo w datesFine Arts Chamber Players will present the 2017 Basically Beethoven Festival on Sunday afternoons in July. Held at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District, every program starts with a Rising Star Recital at 2:30 pm followed by a Feature Performance at 3 pm. Rising Star Recitals present local, gifted young musicians; Feature Performances showcase professional musicians from the area. All concerts are FREE. Details on each afternoon can be found HERE.

“Classical music is the most diverse form of western music, spanning centuries and continents,” explained Basically Beethoven Festival Director Alex McDonald. “Anything can be expressed in beautiful, profound ways: from love to loss, patriotism and exile, thoughtfulness to abandon. This year’s Festival will bring together as many of these different threads as possible. In addition to Beethoven, we will feature several living composers whose voices speak both eloquently and powerfully to our own time.”

McDonald added, “Something I’m particularly excited about this year is our Rising Stars, who represent part of the future of classical music. In the past, we have always used a young soloist with an adult accompanist, but this year we are presenting collaborative duos: two young artists performing together. Some of our performers are only 14 years old and have already played all over the world!”


OVERVIEW: Basically Beethoven Festival 2017

  • Sundays in July
  • July 9, Dances & Romances 
  • July 16, A Spirited Afternoon
  • July 23, Stephen Nielson and friends
  • July 30, Americana!
  • Rising Star Recital at 2:30 pm; Feature Performance at 3 pm; Doors open at 2 pm
  • Dallas City Performance Hall: 2520 Flora Street, Dallas 75201
  • As always, Festival concerts are FREE for all. Paid parking is available in surface lots and garages in the Dallas Arts District. Families with children are welcome. For questions, call 214-520-2219 or email music@fineartschamberplayers.org.

Teacher Profiles: Bo and Gretchen Gerard–the Dream Collectors

Read Hat - DCHusband and wife performing duo Bo Gerard and Gretchen Walz Gerard are co-founding members of FACP’s education outreach program, joining Rogene Russell and Winston Stone to become the Dream Collectors. Their first performance in April 1989 was part of the Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration at the Dallas Museum of Art where they won “Best Live Performance.”

They were off and running from there! For 28 years, Bo and Gretchen have been busy writing plays, choreographing, performing, and teaching as part of this award-winning group. Dream Collectors’ shows combine live theater, music, magic, and circus skills to explore topics like learning differences and character in a fun, engaging way. Their original, cross-curricular musical programs are for schools in the Dallas area, and each performance is customized with grade-appropriate curriculum in compliance with State of Texas mandated Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). 

Read more and get to know our FACP educators, Bo and Gretchen!


What did you study in college, and where did you study? 

Gretchen:  I was fortunate to have received a full Presidential Scholarship to study theatre at Adelphi University in New York. My college experience was quite exceptional because it was more like attending an intensive four-year conservatory where I graduated with a BFA in Theatre Arts, summa cum laude.

Bo:  I studied Architecture at the City College of New York, and made a sudden and fortuitous left turn into the world of New York Theater.

What is your professional background?

Gretchen:  After graduating from Adelphi, I did voice work for Sesame Street cartoons. I also performed in numerous New York City theatre productions at Playwright’s Horizon, Lamb’s Theatre, Drama Committee, and the Lincoln Center Festival, etc. Bo and I met while creating and performing with Bond Street Theatre: it’s an incredible company that pioneers theatre-based projects for conflict resolution, education, and empowerment worldwide in countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Azerbaijan. After New York, I did regional theatre, finally landing in Dallas where I performed in local theatre productions, TV commercials, and country music videos. I had a lot of fun hosting 30 episodes of the children’s television show, “Club 27.” For 10 years, I performed and taught with Young Audiences before they became Big Thought.

Bo:  I began in music as a recording artist in NYC, and segued into musical theater. I studied with a host of amazing NYC teachers and have performed in shows with Glenn Close, Jim Dale, and Stacy Keach. As a Comedy Magician I have performed over 14,000 shows so far & have shared the stage with: Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Bodett, “Mary Kay” Ash and many other celebrities.

What instruments do you play and what other performances specialties do you have?

Gretchen:  I play flute and I can juggle. Off stage, I am a painter and mask maker.

Bo:  Percussion is my main instrument, but I also play piano and electric bass. I also perform magic, incorporating juggling and a variety of circus skills.

How old were you when you started studying music/theater?

Gretchen:  I started performing theatre when I was 13 at the Lexington Children’s Theatre in Kentucky where we performed at the University of Kentucky’s Guignol Theatre.

Bo:  At 15 I simply had to play the drums, so I carved a pair of drumsticks out of some wood my Dad had and played on an array of pillows – every day!

What is a typical Dream Collectors performance like?

Gretchen:  Currently, Bo and I are performing our original musical comedy, “Escape from Couch Potato Land” in schools. In this play two kids are stuck on the sofa watching TV and eating junk food. Super Chef and Vita Girl come to their rescue with the Brilliant I.D.E.A. – a plan to help them escape. We get students and teachers up singing and dancing about the importance of imagination, a good attitude, and fun exercise. We share information about a balanced, healthy diet.  We hope to inspire kids to lead active, healthy lives. We write the lyrics and music, and record our songs. Some titles are “Read All About It,” “Imagine That,” and “Turn It Around” which is a song about having a good attitude.

What do you love about teaching and performing for elementary school students?

Gretchen:   It is such a blessing to get to teach and perform for these students and their amazing teachers. Their openness and enthusiasm are so inspiring. They are ready for a hopeful message and crave an opportunity to learn and to laugh. Although their lives already have so many challenges, they aren’t cynical yet. When our show is over we go out into the audience so we can look in the eyes and share a smile with each and every child. They all want to be seen and valued.

Bo:   Many of the kids we perform for have not been exposed to live theatre, so this is their first experience with it. This is an honor and a great responsibility – to usher them into the world of musical theater and enrich them with topics that are relevant to their lives.

What is a particularly memorable performance of yours?

Gretchen:  We just love seeing the students and teachers up singing and dancing to our original songs like “Be the Hero,” “Work It Out” (about compromise), and “Prove It” (about the scientific method). Also, it was very inspiring performing our show about dyslexia called “The L.D. Zone” at a time when very little was understood about learning differences in the general public.

What piece of advice would you give 8-year-old Bo or Gretchen?

Gretchen:  What a wonderful age. Actually, I think she could probably give me some advice! Play, enjoy each day, be fully present as much as you can because time goes by fast. Appreciate your parents and teachers.  It’s more important to be kind than to be right.

Bo:  Finding myself content and fulfilled in my career, I have no advice to my 8-year-old self, except “You are in for a great ride!

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite?

Gretchen:   Right now my favorite sound is the laughter of our grandson. Also, song birds in the morning. My least favorite is a child crying out in distress.

Bo:   My favorite sound is the sound of pure joy when expressed through an instrument or voice. My least favorite is when I hear people say they could never sing or play an instrument.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to?

Gretchen:  Maya Angelou singing, dancing, and reciting her poetry.  If I don’t make it through the pearly gates then perhaps I’ll dance (as I did as a child) to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Bo:    I would put together a band comprised of Albert Einstein on violin, Alexander Graham Bell on the piano, Charles Dickens on accordion, Neil Armstrong on the baritone horn, and me on percussion.