Former Austin Symphony conductor Maurice Peress dies

Maurice Peress, music director of the Austin Symphony from 1970 to 1972, died on Dec. 31. He was 87.

American-Statesman, Sept. 13, 1970

An assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic, Peress conducted the first performance Bernstein’s “Mass” at the Kennedy Center. The multi-media masterpiece is slated to be performed in Austin this June in celebration of “Bernstein at 100,” to be led by Peter Bay.

A professor and author, Peress was director of the Kansas City Philharmonic and conducted internationally with the Vienna State OperaPrague Spring Festival and all over China. He also conducted key productions of Bernstein’s “Candide” and “West Side Story.”

He taught at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and he led the Queens College Orchestra.

His 2004 book, “Dvorak to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and its African-American Roots,” was widely praised.

Before coming to Austin, where he taught at the University of Texas, Peress conducted in Corpus Christi. For a while, he was music director in both cities. He led UT’s University Symphony Orchestra. In Corpus, he put together an annual opera, staging rarely performed works such as Hector Berlioz‘s “Beatrice and Benedick.”

Concerned with widening Texas audiences for classical music, Peress produced a series of televised “Concert Talks.” His Austin Symphony programs did not shy away from Gustav MahlerIgor Stravinsky and other composers that have fallen out of favor at times with the ensemble’s chief backers.

“His innovative and exciting concerts have inspired new enthusiasm within the community,” Jane Sibley, then president of the Symphony Society, told this newspaper in 1971 when Peress was signed to a three-year contract. “Needless to say, we are delighted that he is pleased with Austin and has agreed to another three years.”

Nevertheless, Peress, citing an overburdened schedule, announced his resignation at the intermission of the orchestra’s last regular subscription concert in 1972.

American-Statesman Amusements Editor John Bustin wrote of that concert: “It was, in every sense, a thrilling performance.”

Catching a bit of culture on the University of Texas jumbotron

The jumbotron at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. Contributed by Wikipedia

The 2017 Longhorns football team seems to be the real deal. Its three losses were close and two of those were against highly ranked teams. The next home game is Oct. 21 against Oklahoma State University. At times at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, all eyes will be on the jumbotron, which will run three Roy Spence-inspired promos for three top cultural attractions on the University of Texas campus.

Using UT’s patented “What Starts Here Changes the World” slogan, the short videos tout the wonders of the Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library.

“UT is renowned for its academics, athletics and vibrant pace of life,” Spence, cofounder of GSD&M creative agency, says. “We also wanted to shine a light on the rich culture that makes UT so extraordinary: its arts and their historical positive impact on society. Within walking distance to the football stadium, UT’s cultural and history-making treasures are a special part of the campus and its legacy. This was an opportunity to showcase those in a big way to both students on campus and nationally to our football fans.”

In addition to running on the jumbotron prompts, the Longhorn Network will air the ads. I hope the creators in coming years expand the program to include the Briscoe Center for American HistoryTexas Performing ArtsBenson Latin American Collection and other UT easily accessible to the general public.

Help build a cool Patrick Dougherty sculpture in Pease Park

What a rush: Pease Park Conservancy has put out a call for volunteers to help build a major sculpture in the park in January 2018.

Patrick Dougherty’s “Easy Rider” (2010). Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. Contributed by Andy Lynch

Designed by renowned artist Patrick Dougherty, this will be the latest Stickwork, a series of over 275 distinct sculptures around the world. (Here’s a few examples.)

According to a Pease Park communiqué, it will take about three weeks to build the site-specific piece – comprised entirely of locally harvested saplings – which is intentionally built for the community by the community.

“Volunteers are needed for single day shifts, although if the project really gels with the right person they are welcome to help out for longer,” says spokesman Mason Kerwick. “Since Patrick will be on site every day guiding the shape of the piece, this is the perfect opportunity for anyone curious to learn more about the artistic process of an internationally renowned artist – while also spending time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and nature in one of Austin’s oldest park.

Once complete, the sculpture will remain on display in Pease Park for a few years.

 

Timely play about Trump Era makes it to UT

A 90-minute drama about America after an envisioned President Donald Trump impeachment opens at the University of Texas on Wednesday. A public conversation follows on Sept. 7.

SEE FULL STORY HERE.

David Sitler plays Rick and Franchelle Stewart Dorn plays Gloria in “Building the Wall.” Contributed by Lawrence Peart

Here’s a peek at my story about Robert Schenkkan‘s “Building the Wall.” —

As timely as the latest political scandal, “Building the Wall” issued like a blaze of lighting from the mind of Robert Schenkkan, the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who grew up in Austin.

The 90-minute, two-person drama about America after an envisioned impeachment of President Donald Trump has its regional premiere at the University of Texas on Thursday and runs through Sept. 10. A public conversation will take place on Sept. 7 at the Brockett Theatre.

Not that long ago, “Building the Wall” was barely a sketch of an idea in Schenkkan’s mental notebook. Yet possessed by the play’s force, he wrote it expeditiously in October, just before the presidential election.

Multiple theaters picked it up immediately, and it reached New York on May 24, which in theatrical terms is like an overnight turnaround. That run was short-lived, but a Los Angeles version was extended several times, and other productions have opened or are in rehearsals around the world.

“I felt the moment was urgent,” Schenkkan says. “It was good to see that as an artist I could respond quickly and that my community would join me. I met so many different artists at different theaters all over the country, institutions I didn’t know, or only knew by reputation, and everybody who participated in this did so with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement because they, too, felt the urgency of the moment and the need to do something, to respond to this extraordinary political crisis.”

Artists and audiences prepare now for the coming Austin arts season

The Austin arts season is upon us.

Wait, you say, it’s just July.

Right.

Jeff Lofton plays the Long Center on Oct. 25.

With some exceptions, arts and other cultural groups — we include major literary and historical outlets — don’t return to full form until September.

Yet now’s the time for all arts groups to confirm their seasonal slates and for all readers to consider purchasing season tickets.

In fact, for some high-demand groups, if you haven’t secured your 2017-2018 subscriptions already, you’re stuck with angling for single slots.

For instance, galvanized by the chance to secure tickets for the matchless musical, “Hamilton,” in the 2018-2019 season, more than 3,000 new subscribers have signed on for Broadway in Austin’s 2017-2018 offerings.

RELATED: Broadway smash “Hamilton” coming to Austin in 2018-2019 season.

Now, some groups don’t operate on the traditional season system, rolling out one show at a time. Others split up their seasons. For instance, the Long Center for the Performing Arts won’t announce its Winter/Spring slate until September.

We respect that. What will follow soon in these pages is a list of shows that we could discover with relative ease in July. We’ll add others to digital extensions on the Austin Arts blog when they arrive.

Time to plan your fall season at the Long Center

A picture of Austin’s fall arts season is falling into place. The latest booking news is from the Long Center for the Performing Aarts. We rearranged, condensed and edited for style their fine descriptions of the following.

Notice that the fall season begins in July. Why not? We only wish the weather would comply.

Also, there’s a lot of other offerings, including Summer Stock Austin, at the center that aren’t part of this season package, so stay alert.

A character from Legend of Zelda. Contributed

“The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses
”


Dell Hall, July 7

Coinciding with the newly released “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and Nintendo’s new Switch, this returns to the Long Center stage on July 7 for one performance only. Now in its fourth season and featuring new music and video, the concert comes to life with a 66-piece orchestra, 24-person choir.

“Fun Home”

Dell Hall, Aug. 11-13

The winner of five 2015 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Direction, this unusual show is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 best-selling graphic memoir.

“An Evening with The Piano Guys

Dell Hall, Aug. 23

The Piano Guys have become an internet sensation by way of their immensely successful series of self-made music videos, leading to over 500 million YouTube views.

Carrie Rodriguez. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

“An Evening with Carrie Rodriguez
”

Rollins Studio Theatre, Aug. 30

Austin native Carrie Rodriguez is a fiddle playing singer songwriter who approaches her country-blues sound with an “Ameri-Chicana” attitude.  Her latest release, “Lola,” takes her back to her ranchera musical roots and was hailed as the “perfect bicultural album” by NPR’s Felix Contreras.

Manual Cinema: “Lula Del Ray”

Rollins Studio Theatre,  Sept. 13-14          

This troupe of theatrical artists are not just puppeteers, but creators of otherworldly landscapes through a striking combination of live actors, old-school projectors and silhouette magic.

“Kaki King: The Neck is a Bridge to the Body 
”

Rollins Studio Theatre, Sept. 16

Hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine as “a genre unto herself,” composer, guitarist, and recording artist Kaki King performs her latest work — a simultaneous homage and deep exploration of her instrument of choice. In this bold new multi-media performance, Kaki deconstructs the guitar’s boundaries as projection mapping explores texture, nature, and creation.

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”

Dell Hall, Sept. 30

Part coming-of-age story and part divine commentary, Terrence Malick’s star-studded and slow-burning art film, “The Tree of Life,” sparked a dialogue within the industry about memory, the meaning of life, and the role that film can play in representing those ideas. Screening with live score performed by Austin Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Austin.

“Star Wars: A New Hope”

Dell Hall, Oct. 11–12

John William’s legendary “Star Wars” score didn’t just enhance a great story, it gave life to an entire galaxy. From “Binary Sunset” to the “Imperial March,” the themes of “A New Hope” ushered in a renaissance of film music, the likes of which Hollywood had never seen before. A special screening with live score performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

“Shopkins Live!”

Dell Hall, Oct. 21

This lights up the stage in this premiere live production packed with show-stopping performances featuring the Shoppies and Shopkins characters taking the stage with an all-new storyline, music, and videos. Join Jessicake, Bubbleisha, Peppa-Mint, Rainbow Kate, Cocolette, and Polli Polish as they perform the coolest dance moves, sing the latest pop songs, and prepare for Shopville’s annual “Funtastic Food and Fashion Fair.”

Jeff Lofton. Contributed by Claire Newman.

“The Jeff Lofton Electric Thang
”

Rollins Studio Theatre, Oct. 25

Jazz artist Jeff Lofton – together with his groups The Jeff Lofton Trio and his Electric Thang – has quickly become a household name around Austin’s low-key bars and jazz lounges.

An evening with Maureen Dowd and Carl Hulse In Conversation

Dell Hall, Saturday Nov. 18

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd, and award-winning author and the Times’ Chief Washington Correspondent, Carl Hulse, will examine the state of the nation one year following the most divisive presidential election in American history. Join us for an evening of incisive dialogue as Dowd and Hulse discuss how we got here and what lies ahead.

“Santa on the Terrace”

City Terrace, Nov. 24 

Bring the family and join us on the City Terrace and take some time out of the busiest holiday of the year to celebrate the season. Bring the kids for a free photo with Santa and enjoy holiday treats, activities and entertainment, all overlooking the best view in Austin!

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical”

Dell Hall, Nov. 24-25

The favorite TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage in this beloved adaptation. Come see all of your favorite characters from the special including Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius, and of course, Rudolph brought to life.

Graham Reynolds. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

“Graham Reynolds Ruins the Holidays”

Rollins Studio Theatre, Dec. 20

Composer and bandleader, Graham Reynolds, along with some of Austin’s best musicians wreak musical havoc with an explosive set of holiday favorites. By playing most of them in a minor key, Reynolds and his band bring a new perspective to these season standards.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical”

Dell Hall, Dec. 29–31

After a smash-hit Broadway run garnering three Tony-Award nominations including Best Musical, this Christmas classic returns for another year. Based on the perennial holiday movie favorite, the story takes place in 1940s Indiana, where a bespectacled boy named Ralphie wants only one thing for Christmas: an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot range Model Air Rifle.