Movers and Shakers: Musical America's Top 30 Professionals of the Year
Susan Elliott, Musical America Editor
If “Movers and Shakers” is a familiar moniker for bigwigs and high rollers, “Movers and Shapers”
represents a perhaps less visible but arguably more important category. These are the individuals who are actually “shaping” programs, practices, and perceptions of the performing artists.
By John Fleming
Music is the universal language, and Neeta Helms speaks it around the world. As founder and president of Classical Movements, now in its 25th year, she specializes in tours for orchestras and choruses, with clients ranging from the National Symphony Orchestra to the Yale Glee Club. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, the company does about 60 tours a year, and has brought music to 145 countries.
Helms is a risk-taker whose breakthrough came in 1993, when she organized a tour of the Choral Arts Society of Washington with the National Symphony Orchestra and legendary Russian conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to the former Soviet Union. Rostropovich led a free concert in Moscow’s Red Square that drew more than 100,000 people. “It was probably like touring the United States with the Beatles, that was what it was like going to Russia with Rostropovich,” she says. “It was so exciting. The world was changing.” Last spring, Classical Movements handled its 30th NSO tour, again to Russia.
Classical Movements also produces choral festivals in Washington, DC, and South Africa, as well as a summer festival for young singers and instrumentalists in Prague. Since 2005, the company has commissioned composers from 20 countries to write more than 50 works. In 2015, it commissioned 10 American composers for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 100th anniversary. This year, Syrian clarinetist-composer Kinan Azmeh became the company’s first composer-in-residence.
Helms grew up in a musical family in India. She began studying piano at age four, sang in public at five, and went on to earn a BA in economics and an MBA. She has lived in the United States since 1986.
What annoys her most about travel? “Airlines get on my nerves. They are absolutely the most difficult part of our job.” Some tours take special resourcefulness, such as those in Cuba, which has a shortage of musical instruments. In June, Classical Movements took both the Minnesota Youth Symphonies and the Stanford
Symphony Orchestra there. “Our biggest challenge, believe it or not, was finding and renting the timpani.”