Reflections on a Year of Making Music Together Apart

Austin Chamber Music Center, Austin Classical Guitar, and Conspirare, with the support and encouragement of the Still Water Foundation, collaborated in the 20-21 season to support one another and share ideas during the COVID pandemic as we transitioned to in-home, streaming performances.

Collectively we are incredibly grateful to have been able to continue to serve, employ our artists and staff, and create music that inspired and connected our communities during this time of great challenge. This year of pivoting and innovating will inform our work as we return to in-person concerts. We’d like to share some of our lessons learned, some of the art itself, and reflect on what we think we might take forward into the future.

Throughout the season, the Executive/Managing Directors of each organization spoke every Friday to share ideas and lessons learned, frequently engaging other team-members and community members in certain discussions.

We are very grateful especially to all those friends near and far who believed in us, took steps with us into online streaming events, supported us, through this most unusual year. Here is a brief report on some of what we learned, and we welcome feedback, comments, and questions.

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2021–2022 Season: Save the Date

Favorite Things

We’ll return to our Friday Intimate Concert and Saturday Synchronism Concert format with five programs from October through April. Instead of going into homes for Intimate Concerts we are thrilled to partner with KMFA to present all five concerts in the brand new Draylen Mason Music Studio, and Synchronism Concerts will return to the First Unitarian Church!

Artist Favorites: October 1 & 2
American Favorites: November 12 & 13
Adventurous Favorites: January 21 & 22
Unexpected Favorites: February 25 & 26
Fan Favorites: April 22 & 23

A Charlie Brown Christmas: December 12, Stateside Theatre

Featuring: Laura Andrade, Rita Andrade, Patrice Calixte, Carpe Diem String Quartet, Liz Cass, Utah Hamrick, Amy Levine-Tsang, James Shields, Michelle Schumann, David Sierra, Ebonee Thomas, Sandy Yamamoto, and more

Friday Intimate Concerts: 7:30 PM, KMFA’s Draylen Mason Music Studio; $80
Saturday Synchronism Concerts: 7:30 PM, First Unitarian Church; $30–50

Discount packages will be available for both series, and 2019–2020 subscribers will be given priority when tickets go on sale later this summer. If you’d like to join the Friday night waitlist, please contact

Don’t miss the full season announcement and on sale date for single tickets and discount packages, later this summer! Subscribe to our newsletter here.

Save the Date Printout Version

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David’s Journey Through the In-School Program

David is a junior at LBJ/LASA High School who has been involved with ACMC since he was in middle school at Sarah Beth Lively. He writes in support of ACMC’s 2020 Amplify Austin campaign, which will provide funding to the In-School Coaching Program. Read David’s story below to learn just what an incredible impact our program has had on him. You can join David and support a young musician by donating to our Amplify Austin campaign. Your gift will have double the impact as the first $15,000 raised will be matched 1:1. By donating between 6 AM and 7 AM on Friday March 6, you can help ACMC earn a $1,000 bonus prize for having the most donors during that hour. Amplify the difference you make in young artists’ lives!

Amplify Chamber Music for a Student

Chamber music has provided some of the most valuable and genuine experiences I’ve ever had, developing my skills as well as my ability to work in groups and build new friendships through music. For almost five years, ACMC has given me the opportunity to participate in rewarding chamber music ensembles.

The in-school program in particular has been a formative influence on my musical progression. In middle school, my best friend and I were interested in chamber music, playing duets for our teachers and parents. When ACMC invited us to participate in a weekly quartet rehearsal in class, we were absolutely ecstatic. The two of us have been doing it ever since, and I truly believe that the positive change these sessions have left me with extends far beyond the stage or practice room.

Through this program, I have made close friendships with talented musicians and fellow students that have lasted long after the ensembles played their final concerts. The musical intuition and sensitivity that chamber music inspires has helped me get closer to other friends as well. Chamber music has also helped me become more effective in the academic field. Being able to receive and implement criticism professionally, as well as working productively in small groups, are both skills that translate across musical and academic pursuits alike.

Besides all that, I genuinely look forward to quartet rehearsals during the school day. It lifts my mood when I get to go away for an hour and do something I really care about, and so the opportunity to work with chamber music for free and without time constraints has been one I continue to value to this day.

Amplify Chamber Music for a Student

Vieuxtemps & the Romantics

In this week’s Chamber Chat, we’ll delve into why our Valentine’s Weekend program will be our most emotionally charged concert of the season. Learn about the virtuosity and drama of Vieuxtemps, the holy aura of Beethoven, and the “heart-on-sleeve” romanticism of Fauré. Friday night and Saturday premium seats are sold out; complete your Valentine’s plans and get your Saturday General Admission tickets now! As usual, we will have complimentary wine starting at 6:30 PM on Saturday.

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Reicha & the Inner Circle

In this week’s Chamber Chat, Michelle Schumann discusses friendship. Learn about the friendship between Beethoven and Anton Reicha that influenced their music making, and about one piece that Michelle’s friend, award-winning Austin composer Graham Reynolds, wrote for her. Hear this music live on January 18 with ACMC and all your chamber music friends!

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Crumb & the Innovators

Venture inside a piano to learn a few modern techniques from Michelle Schumann. She’ll also discuss your next season concert, Crumb & the Innovators, and what makes each piece on the program so experimental for its time. Hear these innovative works by George Crumb, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Ludwig van Beethoven on November 2!

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Clara & the Phenomena

Learn about one of the finest pianists of her time from our own Michelle Schumann. Michelle chats about Clara Schumann’s ingenuity and uniqueness, and about the music by Brahms and Beethoven that will be paired with her Piano Trio next weekend. Discover these influential works live by joining us at our season opener September 28!

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The Melting Pot Spotlight: KASA Quartet

We spoke with this month’s featured artists KASA Quartet about their new Marvin Hamlisch project. Learn about their collaboration with the Hamlisch family to honor one of America’s most beloved and highly acclaimed composers, and about how the quartet interprets music from around the globe. KASA, the first prize winners of the 2017 Coltman Chamber Music Competition, will be premiering their arrangement of Hamlisch’s Sweet Smell of Success on April 26 and 27 at The Melting Pot alongside music by Robert Schumann and Joaquín Turina. Friday tickets are sold out and limited Saturday tickets are available, including only a few Premium seats; buy your Saturday tickets now!

Tell us about your Marvin Hamlisch project.

Our Marvin Hamlisch project began two years ago upon connecting with Terre Blair Hamlisch, Marvin’s widow. Kyle was asked to arrange a few of Marvin’s selections for quartet by Ms. Blair Hamlisch to be performed at an event commemorating Marvin’s life. She was very enthusiastic about the result, which led her to ask if we could explore doing more string quartet arrangements of his pieces. This includes the Sweet Smell of Success, a musical written by Marvin that premiered in 2001 on Broadway only a mere month following the 9/11 tragedy. The brilliance of this work as one of his last major Broadway musicals holds a special place for Marvin and Terre, which led us to choosing it. She knows we are performing this in Austin at the Austin Chamber Music Center Season Finale and wishes she could be there, but is thrilled to hear that this arrangement will be given its premiere at the series.

How does this project embody the idea of the pioneering American spirit?

Marvin Hamlisch was often known as the “composer of the people.” His music resonated with American concert, movie, and theater goers leading to his PEGOT honors [Hamlisch is one of only two people to have won Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards]. For us personally, taking the music of one of the greatest American composers who has multiple genre interests fits directly within our goal to create innovative and versatile programs that feature a variety of styles. We believe his music and this project embody his versatility, and how it resonates with those trailblazing new paths.

You’re also performing works by Turina (of Spanish origin) and Schumann (of German origin). Tell us how you approach music from different cultural backgrounds and how your own cultural backgrounds inform your performances.

We feel that listening to the language of the culture and understanding the history of the composer and the context of their place within that culture’s history helps inform our interpretation and sound. The slight differences in storytelling styles and articulation affect everything from phrasing to the way we use our bows and vibrato. Some of it is conscious decisions being made and other parts of it are out of instinct that has developed through years of performing these composers’ works in various settings across the globe.

East Meets West Spotlight: Sandy Yamamoto

We spoke with this month’s featured artist Sandy Yamamoto about her years growing up as a violinist in a Japanese family. Learn how a rose inspired her career and where her musical side comes from in our interview. Sandy will be performing music by Debussy, Ravel, and Takemitsu on March 1 and 2 at East Meets West. Friday seats and Saturday premium seats are sold out; be sure to buy your Saturday GA tickets now to hear her perform with Amy Levine-Tsang and Michelle Schumann in their award-winning ensemble, the Schumann Chamber Players!

Where did you grow up, and how did music fit into your childhood?

I grew up primarily in four places as a child. I was born in Columbus, OH, to first generation Japanese parents, so Japanese was my first language, and I started playing the violin when I was four years old and piano when I was five. I moved to Littleton, CO when I was six, then to Chapel Hill, NC when I was ten, and then I went to a boarding arts school in Winston-Salem, NC (UNCSA – University of North Carolina School of the Arts) when I was fourteen. I started playing the violin because my mom’s Japanese friend came over and brought her daughter over with her. They had just come back from a violin lesson. Since the violin was not a toy, I was not able to touch it. As a three-year-old, I was extremely curious about this “toy” that I couldn’t touch. Then, we were invited to that daughter’s violin recital. I don’t remember what she played, but when she finished playing, I remember that everyone applauded and she got a rose!! I wanted that rose so badly, that I decided that I needed to play the violin too. I begged my parents to let me play the violin for a year. Little did I know that you could just go to a florist to get a rose… I would use chopsticks, stand on our coffee table my father made (my mother still has this in her home) and pretended that I was performing. They finally found out about rental violins, rented me a violin, found a violin teacher with a Japanese wife (this was very important since my parents’ English wasn’t great), and the rest is history. My dream of getting a rose finally came true at age five when I played in a talent show. It was actually a busy evening for me. I first danced — both tap and ballet — and then I played the first movement of the Seitz Violin Concerto #5. After I finished performing, Kermit the Frog from another act of the talent show came out on roller skates, gave me a kiss, and gave me a ROSE!! My dream came true, and it inspired me to keep playing the violin. I started out with the Suzuki Method, and went through all of the books with some supplemental pieces. It was a great way for me to learn music except for the fact that I did not read music until after I finished all of the Suzuki books. Luckily, my Suzuki piano teacher implemented some note reading, so I eventually learned how to read music. Sight reading was a real challenge for me, and it took some really nice college friends to read chamber music with me every week for me to get better at reading music.

Did your family’s Japanese heritage affect your music-making?

I’m not sure if my Japanese heritage affected my music-making except for the fact that I had typical Asian parents that pushed me to do the very best in all subjects, including the violin and piano.

What is your favorite musical memory or artistic work from Japan or from your family?

My favorite musical memory with my family is probably when my father pulled out a harmonica at our wedding rehearsal dinner, and started playing all sorts of tunes including Japanese folk tunes. Not many people knew that he is a pretty talented harmonica player. He did something similar at my brother’s wedding in Japan, except he pulled out his guitar and sang a song. I think my musical side came from my father. I also found out that his father, my grandfather played violin until his house along with his violin got burned down during World War II. My grandmother from my father’s side was also musical. She played the shamisen, a Japanese three-stringed traditional instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian.

It’s All Greek to Me Spotlight: Nora Karakousoglou

We recently spoke with this month’s featured cellist Nora Karakousoglou about her formative years in Athens. Learn about her family’s Greek holiday tradition and how it—and they—helped shape her musical life in our interview. Nora will be performing on January 18 and 19 at It’s All Greek to Me. Be sure to buy your tickets now to hear her perform with Sonja Larson and Michelle Schumann!

Where did you grow up and how did music fit into your childhood?

I grew up in a suburb of Athens, Greece. Both my parents’ occupations were centered around fixing teeth: my mother, Theodora, is a dentist, my dad, Stefanos, an orthodontist. So, naturally, I became a cellist! Well, it was not exactly that simple, but I was incredibly fortunate in three significant ways: both my parents appreciated classical music and valued music education, my dad had a substantial collection of LPs and CDs of classical masterworks by distinguished artists, and my endlessly creative aunt, Antigone, never missed an opportunity to take me to live concerts, introduce me to Greek music, and purchase music scores for me. When I was four years old, I started piano lessons with Phoebe Vallinda, with whom I studied for about four years. Though the memories of those lessons are few and a little blurry, I have a strong sense that she planted the seeds that made me who I am today. Looking back now, I realize that she was the best teacher I ever had. She was also the one who suggested to my mother that I switch to a stringed instrument. She said something along the lines of “Greece needs more good string players, we have enough pianists.” That sentence was the beginning of a long journey into unknown territory, with my mother as the explorer: she was the leading force behind finding teachers, contacting them, asking the tough questions, driving me to and from lessons. And she did all that for my three younger sisters as well, a story for another time. The first stringed instrument I tried was the violin, but it was a very rough start. After a year of struggling with it, another influential pedagogue, Nelly Oikonomidou, suggested I start the cello. I was nine years old. About two years into playing the cello, and after what seemed an impossible decision to make, I decided to quit piano lessons. Since then, I have had twenty-five years of lessons on the cello, with fourteen cello teachers in three different countries.

What is your favorite musical memory or artistic work from Greece?

My favorite musical memory comes from when I was a teenager. Had you asked me back then, I would have absolutely not chosen that as a highlight of my musical life in Greece. Now, however, I recognize its significance in my musical upbringing. My family considers hospitality to be one of the most valuable traits of a Greek household. Taking that to the extreme, as they tend to do with a lot of things, they threw some memorable Christmas parties at our house. The majority of the friends we invited were either professional musicians, amateur musicians, or just music lovers who were unafraid to sing. We would open our house at around 8pm (which is considered very early for dinner in Greece), music would start at around 10:30pm, and the last guests would sometimes leave after sunrise. At any given point we had at least three pianists, two guitarists, three violinists, and a number of volunteers for vocals. Occasionally there would be an accordion player, harmonica, bouzouki (Greek traditional instrument) or recorders. The repertoire included anything from improvisations on Greek songs and Beethoven piano sonatas to spontaneous arrangements of jazz tunes for any instrumentalist who was awake after dessert. I have a vivid memory of being asked by my dad to play some Bach for “change of pace”: it was around 4am, and the lights had been dimmed to accommodate our happy but sleepy guests, who felt comfortable to use any surface to snooze before they played another piece of music. Some of my friends were asleep on the couch, others were having their seventh cup of coffee. A colleague was dozing with her violin on her lap. One of her children was trying to stay awake, but eventually fell asleep and dropped a spoon – the sound woke everyone up. A little nervous and definitely sleepy, I began to play the famous G Major prelude for solo cello by Bach, probably for the first time in public. To this day, I don’t know if, in a room full of people, anyone even heard that a cello was being played. I remember being mad at my dad for having asked me to play, but I think I was just grumpy and sleepy. Since then, I’ve played the same piece for people to enjoy in numerous public places including department stores, grocery stores, the optometrist’s office and even the mechanic’s garage where I got my car tires changed…and also the site of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Though I may have been resistant at that Christmas party, reminding myself that I made it through that unusual first performance has given me the reassurance I needed to share my music with people in public spaces. It has become one of my favorite things to do!