MA Top 30 Professional of the Year: Neeta Helms
By Zachary Lewis
December 7, 2021
Specialists in travel for the performing arts, Classical Movements was doubly impacted by the pandemic. The agency had to cancel or postpone 200 concerts on 42 tours.
But if the shutdown was broader than most, the reaction was quicker. By a combination of sheer determination and ingenuity, President Neeta Helms not only kept her firm intact but managed to present some of the first live concerts since the shutdown. “I refused to surrender to the challenges of the pandemic,” she said. “I was determined to use our resources and experience to continue to do good…all with the intent of keeping musicians engaged.”
When Virginia Governor Ralph Northam raised gathering capacity to 50 people in June of 2020, Helms planned an outdoor, socially distanced concert on the company’s Alexandria property. That soon mushroomed into a full season of “Secret Garden” concerts, a diverse series of hour-long performances spanning chamber, jazz, Baroque, and even vocal music. As of November 2021, the series had offered 95 concerts, a model for presenters everywhere. “[W]e are no strangers to unique, substantial challenges,” Helms said. “However, this was the first time we had produced [concerts] literally in our back yard.”
Classical Movements also jumped into the digital arena, copresenting the Vox Virtual a cappella festival and organizing online master classes through its new “Ossia! Orchestral Academy.” It even offered an online “Concert for India” in response to that country’s pandemic plight and a multi-orchestra digital collaboration celebrating the inaugurations of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. “[W]e turned the necessity of virtual performance…into an opportunity to assemble a group of musicians who would have been unlikely to have ever come together, even under normal circumstances,” Helms said.
While many ensembles have gone back to live performance and Classical Movements is back to running choral and youth orchestra tours, “normalcy is a long way off,” Helms said. In the meantime, there is much to be done. “All of us…remain busy on future tours and the other projects we have introduced to keep us going,” she said. “In times of struggle and isolation…live music can provide an essential sense of comfort and community.
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