Musical America: Top 30 Movers & Shapers - Neeta Helms

Musical America

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.”