Austin American Statesman – Life and Arts
This summer, Austin Classical Guitar Society and Austin Chamber Music Center transform how classical music is presented
By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Thursday June 14, 2012
A Lon Chaney silent classic screened outside to a new score for classical guitar.
Custom cocktails to match the individual personalities of the Miró Quartet.
Playlists that include Mozart, Haydn, Dvořák and Mendelssohn — and also Radiohead, Arcade Fire and tango great Astor Piazzolla.
And venues that span from the acoustically pristine Bates Recital Hall to the legendary blues club Antone’s.
Every summer, festivals are an ubiquitous element of classical music programming across the country. And typically, they are predictable affairs with rosters of similarly styled, formally presented concerts.
But in Austin, two organizations — Austin Classical Guitar Society and Austin Chamber Music Center — are transforming the very definition of what it means to be a classical music presenter in the 21st century.
The Guitar Society, for example, has commissioned guitar duo Les Freres Meduses to write a new score for the bizarre Lon Chaney silent movie, “The Unknown,” which will be screened in the amphitheater at Laguna Gloria, AMOA-Arthouse’s historic 1916 lakeside villa.
In addition to noted ensembles such as the Fine Arts Quarter, the Jupiter String Quartet and the Claremont Piano Trio, the lineup for the Austin Chamber Music Festival diverges out of the expected venue.
Two concerts are at Antone’s — eclectic jazz trio the Bad Plus, and Austin’s alt classical pop ensemble Mother Falcon.
And both organizations are collaborating to present the Brasil Guitar Duo, whose repertoire traverses centuries, starting with the classics, segueing through traditional Brazilian music and ending with music the duo has composed.
“Music is just music,” says Michelle Schumann, pianist and artistic director of the Austin Chamber Music Center. “Many conservatory-trained musicians today are not even interested in blurring boundaries because to them, there really are no boundaries anymore.”
She adds: “Our genre is great music, passionately played and well contextualized.”
Like she does in her own performances, many of the musicians Schumann presents eschew the pedantic program notes common to classical music in favor of introducing each piece with a personal introduction.
Though she sometimes gets push-back from patrons fond of the formal don’t-applaud-until-the-end tradition of classical concerts, Schumann’s approach clearly works. Last year, ticket sales to the Chamber Music Festival were up 50 percent above the previous summer’s. And this year, Schumann reports, advance sales continue to show a similar increase.
“I wouldn’t be upset if I had nine different audiences for all nine of our concerts,” she says. “It’s great that we can appeal to people who never otherwise go to a classical music concert and also appeal to people who go to classical music, but might not go to Antone’s.”
To the young, classically trained musicians of Mother Falcon, the question of genre is both frustrating and irrelevant. On its Facebook page, the band has posted: “Still accepting suggestions for genre names.”
“We’ve always been open to play both in concert halls and in clubs,” says Mother Falcon saxophonist Matt Puckett. “We’re totally a product of Austin — from the classical music education programs here to the club scene.”
For Matthew Hinsley, director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society, the guitar has always been a musical ambassador, a means to bridge audiences and genres.
Though the organization continues to present formal concert series, it’s also branched out in recent years, adding a series of intimate concerts in historic homes and another series of informal concerts by local guitarists at the Cactus Cafe.
“Sure, we see people coming to certain concerts just because of the venue,” Hinsley says. “We’ve got folks who tell us they just love the historic homes and that’s why they attend those concerts. Other people really love the Cactus.”
But while adding different venues into the classical music mix provides new entry points for new audiences, like Schumann, Hinsley maintains that, in the end, it’s about the music.
“Nothing’s meant to compete with the music,” says Hinsley.
Contact Jeanne Claire van Ryzin at 445-3699
Wonderfully bizarre, the 1927 silent film “The Unknown” stars Lon Chaney as an armless knife thrower for the circus and a young Joan Crawford as his love object.
Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow provides the outdoor movie screen, and the historic lakeside amphitheater at Laguna Gloria serves as a gracious, verdant setting in a screening opened by a themed buffet and wine service.
Ultra-inventive guitar duo Les Freres Meduses took the charge to compose a new score for the film that they’ll perform along with Miró Quartet violinist Will Fedkenheuer.
Says Randall Avers, one half of Les Freres: “We created musical themes around certain characters. You’ll hear the same theme, but the changes in the scenario and context force us to modify these themes. The style of music is a broad but homogeneous range of gypsy jazz, Macedonian folk, Spanish classical, French Impressionism, faux-flamenco and a few moments of comic relief. Some existing music was arranged into the score; pieces by Ravel, Granados, Albeniz and DeFalla blended perfectly in with the action and mood of the film.”
7:30 p.m. June 22. AMOA-Arthouse at Laguna Gloria, 3806 W. 35th St. $50. www.austinclassicalguitar.org
The Bad Plus
Yeah, they’re cool. Way cool.
Erasing the boundary between jazz and, well, everything else, the trio of Reid Anderson, Ethan Iverson and David King veritably deconstruct music, arriving at a style that one critic labeled “avant garde populism.”
In 2010 when they played the Austin Chamber Music Festival, their gig was in Bates Recital Hall. This year, they’re at the legendary blues club Antone’s. Either venue suits The Bad Plus just fine.
7:30 p.m. June 29. Antone’s, 213 W. Fifth St. 25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
Jupiter String Quartet
This Boston-based foursome is known for their fresh, young energy, which has been garnering them acclaim across several continents. On their program is Bartok and Mendelssohn as well as Haydn’s well-known and wiley String Quartet in E-flat Major, “The Joke.”
7:30 p.m. June 30. First Unitarian Church, 4700 Grover Ave. $25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
Richard Stoltzman & Michelle Schumann
They’ll play Bach and Brahms. And also Gershwin, Ives and minimalist master Steve Reich.
Austin pianist Michelle Schumann, an expressive musical interpreter and also a consummate technician, is joined by two-time Grammy Award-winning clarinetist Richard Stoltzman.
7:30 p.m. July 1, First Unitarian Church, 4700 Grover Ave. $25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
Brasil Guitar Duo
Douglas Lora and João Luiz can play it all: the classical repertoire, Brazilian music, jazz and their own compositions. Little surprise then that their program for Austin includes music by nuevo tango great Astor Piazzolla, Baroque master Jean Phillipe Rameau, Brazilian classicist Heitor Villa-Lobos and the duo’s own music.
7:30 p.m. July 6. Bates Recital Hall, UT Music Building, 2402 Robert Dedman Drive. $25-$50. www.austinclassicalguitar.org
Claremont Piano Trio
This New York-based trio — started by twin sisters Emily Bruskin (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello), who were then joined by pianist Donna Kwong — are regarded as much for their performances of the standard repertoire as they are for their interpretations of new compositions. In Austin they’ll play Mozart and Mendelssohn along with a luminous new piece by up-and-coming composer Sean Shepherd.
7:30 p.m. July 7. Bates Recital Hall. $25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
Fine Arts Quartet
This elite string quartet has been in existence for more than six decades, with a very select roster of musicians able to claim membership. True to their dignified pedigree, they play Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, Schumann’s String Quartet in A Minor and Dvořák’s Quintet for Piano and String Quartet in A Major.
7:30 p.m. July 8. Bates Recital Hall. $25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
They’re between musical genres; a part of every genre and also no genre. And they’re pure Austin.
Mother Falcon is a collective, a large and sometimes changing roster of musicians that nevertheless includes a classically trained string section, jazz horn players, guitarists, accordionists, percussionists, a mandolin player, a pianist and a few lyrical vocalists. Their’s is a music that inventively and seamlessly blends a song-based pop sensibility with classical and jazz touches.
7:30 p.m. July 13. Antone’s, 213 W. Fifth St. $15-$50 www.austinchambermusic.org
Third Coast Percussion
They’ll fill the stage with a crazy amount of bangable, tappable and even poundable instruments and everyday objects.
This energetic and whip-smart foursome of classically trained percussionists champion the often overlooked yet always engaging percussion repertoire. Among other pieces, they’ll play Steve Reich’s monumental, charging Mallet Quartet scored for four marimbas.
7:30 p.m. July 14. Bates Recital Hall. $25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley
Adventurous collaborators, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley will announce their program from the stage, selecting from works by, among others, Stravinsky, Janacek, Martinů, and also Arcade Fire, Radiohead and the Cocteau Twins.
O’Riley is host of National Public Radio’s popular program “From the Top.” Haimovitz is a passionate player equally at home on the concert stage or club.
7:30 p.m. July 15. Bates Recital Hall. $25-$50. www.austinchambermusic.org
Miró Quartet with Jorge Caballero
The evening starts with Alamo Drafthouse’s noted mixologist Bill Norris presenting five speciality cocktails, one for each of Austin’s stellar string players, the Miró Quartet, and one for guitarist Jorge Caballero. Then, the Miró and Caballero take the stage for a spirited — perhaps in more ways than one — concert.
6 p.m. Aug. 4. Dell Hall, Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive. $27-$52. www.austinclassicalguitar.org
Austin Classical Guitar Society’s Summer Series & the Austin Chamber Music Festival
When: June 22-Aug. 4
Note: Venues and ticket prices vary.
The Austin Chamber Music Festival also presents a series of short free concerts at various locations. See www.austinchambermusic.org .