Two weeks into the virtually undodgeable 24/7 Winter Wonderland sound collage that is this time of year, I’ve been looking for something without sleigh bells, warm brass, and mixed chorus. My search for sanctuary from the rising Yuletide led me to Skinny’s Ballroom in the heart of downtown Austin for a bit of improv holiday cheer.
Big rooms, slick clothes, and pricey intermission drink prices have their place, but I thought I should get out to shows organized by smaller, less tightly knit groups, where the filters are off and the experimentation is on. I also thought that I’d seen lots of fiddles and horns, so it might be worth finding a show where there’s more plugged in than the announcer’s microphone.
In addition to a wide variety of sculpture, painting, and installations, the Blanton Museum features the Soundspace series which pairs composers with choreographers and dancers with instrumentalists to create interdisciplinary works that interact with and explore various spaces and works of art within the museum.
Recently, the Center for American Architecture and Design, The School of Architecture, and The Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music hosted Music in Architecture • Architecture in Music, an international symposium to “explore the connections between architecture and music through research, composition, design, installation, and live performance.” The four-day event featured papers and presentations from an international gathering of artists and scholars, plus a collaborative composition/architecture competition.
I recently saw two shows in as many nights that were presented by a couple of fantastic arts organizations in Austin: Ballet Austin and the Austin Classical Guitar Society. They both featured something old and something new, though refreshingly (and surprisingly, given that these are not new music groups) there was more of the latter in both shows.
Given the bigness of Texas, and in the interest of giving a sense of what’s going on throughout the region, I’m going to occasionally travel outside of Austin to explore other offerings. Among the heavy hitters in Houston is Musiqa, a new music organization run by professors from Rice and the Moores School at the University of Houston.
Tahiti is the latest recording released by Michael Torke’s Ecstatic Records, the label he founded in 2003 in order to release his new material and to distribute his older recordings. The current trend of self-publishing/recording composers was still a fairly new and rarely implemented concept in 2003, and the number of established composers leaving the safety of traditional models to set out on their own was virtually non-existent.
This is a big year for the Austin Chamber Music Center. It marks the 30th anniversary of the center itself, the 5th year with Michelle Schumann as director, and arguably the biggest year for its annual festival. Now in its 14th year and spanning more than two weeks, the festival features a wide range of performing groups, from the alt-jazz of Kneebody to the Tokyo String Quartet. This year’s festival also has a featured composer in Michael Torke, a first for the festival.
New music is not new to Austin, but its supporters have largely been of the grassroot variety and its funding has typically come in the form of modest ticket prices, tip jars, and any number of thankless day jobs. Now one of the big players in town, Texas Performing Arts, is using a significant new grant to throw its weight behind not only the creation of new music, but also its presentation to a new audience.
“Live Music Capital of the World” Austin, Texas, more than lived up to its name this past Saturday with the first annual Fast Forward Austin Festival.