For now, Austin Opera opts to go without an artistic director

After firing Artistic Director Richard Buckley for alleged misconduct, Austin Opera has opted to go without a leader in that position for the 2018-2019 season.

ALSO SEE: Richard Buckley fired from Austin Opera.

Instead, General Director and CEO Annie Burridge has appointed Tim Myers, most recently artistic and music director of North Carolina Opera, as the Austin outfit’s artistic advisor.

Myers, who has overseen world premieres at top spots such as Houston Grand Opera, will also conduct in Austin the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” based on the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël,” which reimagines the famous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Hometown hero Kevin Puts wrote the music.

The European Premiere of Kevin Puts’ ‘Silent Night’ at the Wexford Opera Festival. Contributed

SEE THE SEASON: How Austin Opera got its groove back.

Austin Opera has drafted two other conductors to lead the more traditional operas. Steven White, whose credits span the North American continent, will take over the baton for “La Traviata,” which concludes this season, and “Otello” next season. Peter Bay, music director for the Austin Symphony, comes to the rescue next season for “La Bohème.”

A fifth opera, “Soldier Songs,” by David T. Little, will mix video, rock, opera and theater to tell the stories of veterans of five wars as part of the nontraditional Opera ATX efforts, first tried at the Paramount Theatre.

“We are honored to have Timothy, Steven, and Peter contribute their extraordinary talent to our company,” says Burridge. “In the coming months we will share our plans to select our next permanent artistic leader, and we look forward to engaging our audience and musicians in that process.”

Austin’s Armstrong Community Music School founder Margaret Perry dies

Margaret Perry, founder of Austin’s Armstrong Community Music School, died Thursday morning of pancreatic cancer at age 66.

Margaret Perry with students at the Armstrong Community Music School. Contributed

“A phenomenal loss,” said Austin philanthropy leader Mary Herr Tally. “This one hurts.”

Perry stepped down as director of the school, formerly associated with Austin Opera and named for humanitarian James Armstrong, who died last year, in October after learning of her diagnosis.

RELATED: Benefactor James James Armstrong has died.

“Margaret was an amazing person who took the school to heights James and I never imagined,” said Larry Connelly, Armstrong’s surviving husband. “James was always so proud to have his name associated with such a great organization.”

“Her imprint will be forever on the Armstrong Community Music School, the staff that followed her vision wholeheartedly, and the faculty that shared her mission of service and excellence,” said Rachel McInturff, the director of the school’s finance and administration. “Her wisdom guided many. Her laughter uplifted all. She will be deeply missed.”

Perry originally trained as a harpsichordist and played with various baroque music groups. She served for several years as pianist for Houston Ballet. Although she taught piano privately for decades, she was know to the larger arts community as lecturer and arts educator.

Perry served on numerous boards of directors before and after the founding of the Armstrong School in 2000. At the time, it was the only American community music school established by an opera company. She one numerous honors and was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jeff and Gail Kodosky, Laura Walterman, Austin Gleeson and other benefactors have established the Margaret Perry Endowment Fund which has already attracted $200,000 and is managed by the Austin Community Foundation.

A memorial concert at a time to be determined will feature music only, no speeches or photos, followed by a reception.

This is a developing story. Check back for more details.

Austin Symphony posts decisive new season

As Austin Symphony reveals its new season, Music Director Peter Bay talks about a decisive change in direction.

Peter Bay reveals decisive new season for Austin Symphony

“We are just going to play the pieces we ought to play,” Bay said over soup at Zax restaurant. “We got pigeon-holed into season-long themes. Now we will tie each individual concert together by a theme with variations.”

At times in past, Symphony seasons have seemed a bit tentative while trying to please key backers. Not this time out. Among the themed concerts in 2018-2019 season is an evening devoted to rarely performed works by women composers.

“They all would have had great careers,” Bay says of Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger and Fanny Mendelsson,” if being a composer was considered a career for women back then.”

Also on that program are two pieces by Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon.

The Symphony will salute the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, perhaps America’s greatest composer, with music from three of his Broadway shows as well as Divertimento for Orchestra.

It will also bring back nonagenarian pianist Leon Fleisher, who for a time lost the use of his right hand, and served as a mentor for Bay as a conductor.

“I owe him a lot,” Bays says. “He helped get my career started.”

The 2017 Texas Young Composers winner by Paul Novak, “On Buoyancy,” will advance to the Masterworks series.

“This is a first,” Bay says. “It deserved to be on the subscription program.”

Given all the tragedies in the news, the Symphony will return to another somber Requiem, this one by Johannes Brahms. Also, protean Robert Faires will reprise part of his one-actor “Henry V” for a Shakespearean program.

A dozen or so of the Masterworks selections are new to the Symphony, which has been keeping records since 1911, although spottily during a couple of decades.

ALSO READ: Archive of programs shine light on Symphony — and city’s — history.

The Austin Symphony’s 2018-2019 season contains some surprises.

And now for the complete 2018-2019 season:

MASTERWORKS I: SEPTEMBER 14/15, 2018

“The Mighty Russians Part III” Season Opener

Lise de la Salle, piano

Glazunov: Carnaval Overture, op. 45

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1in F-sharp minor, Op. 1

Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

MASTERWORKS II: OCTOBER 19/20, 2018

“Happy Birthday, Lenny!”

Bernstein/Harmon: Suite from Candide

Bernstein: Divertimento for Orchestra

Bernstein: Selections from On the Town

Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

MASTERWORKS III: NOVEMBER 30/DECEMBER 1, 2018

“Tale of Two Titans”

Orli Shaham, piano

Paul Novak: On Buoyancy (2017 Texas Young Composers winner)

Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83

MASTERWORKS IV: JANUARY 11/12, 2019

“Variation Voyage”

Leon Fleisher, piano

Ives/Schuman: Variations on “America”

Dvořák: Symphonic Variations on the Theme “I am a fiddler” for orchestra, Op. 78

Franck: Symphonic Variations, FWV 46

Britten: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, Op. 34

MASTERWORKS V: FEBRUARY 22/23, 2019

“Brahms’ Requiem”

Conspirare Symphonic Choir

Craig Hella Johnson, conductor

Heather Phillips, soprano

Paul Tipton, baritone

Brahms: Variations on the St. Antoni Chorale, Op. 56a

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45

MASTERWORKS VI: MARCH 22/23, 2019

“Creative Expressions” Celebrating Women Composers

Time for Three (Nicolas Kendall, violin; Charles Yang, violin; Ranaan Meyer, double bass)

Michelle Schumann, piano

F. Mendelssohn: Overture in C Major

Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps

C.W. Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7

Kaprálová: Suita rustica, Op. 19

Higdon: Concerto 4-3

MASTERWORKS VII: APRIL 12/13, 2019

“Champions of Austria”

William Hagen, violin

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Major, K. 218

Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in D minor

MASTERWORKS VIII: MAY 17/18, 2019

“A Shakespearean Evening”

Robert Faires, actor

Chorus Austin

Berlioz: Excerpts from Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17

Walton: Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario

SARAH AND ERNEST BUTLER POPS SERIES

POPS I: OCTOBER 27, 2018; Dell Hall

“Wizard of Oz” – Film with Orchestra

POPS II: DECEMBER 29/30, 2018; Palmer Events Center

Ella & Louis

With Byron Stripling & Carmen Bradford

POPS III: FEBRUARY 9, 2019; Dell Hall

“Singin’ in the Rain” – Film with Orchestra

POPS IV: MAY 31/JUNE 1, 2019; Palmer Events Center

The Broadway Soprano

Lisa Vroman

SPECIAL EVENTS

OCTOBER 28, 2018; AISD Performing Arts Center

Halloween Children’s Concert

DECEMBER 4, 2018; Hyde Baptist Church

Handel’s Messiah

TBD

SARAH AND ERNEST BUTLER TEXAS YOUNG COMPOSERS CONCERT

DECEMBER 2019; Austin area

Christmas in the Community

JUNE – AUGUST 2019; Hartman Concert Park

Hartman Concerts in the Park

JULY 4, 2019; Vic Mathias Shores

H-E-B Austin Symphony July 4th Concert & Fireworks

 

Longtime Austin Symphony manager Ken Caswell dies

Kenneth “Ken” Caswell, who managed the Austin Symphony from 1980 to 1998, has died.

 Kenneth Caswell. Alicia Mireles/Austin American-Statesman

“The entire Austin Symphony family is saddened by the passing of former executive director, Ken Caswell,” said Anthony Corroa. “Ken was a kind and gentle man.  He led the administration of the orchestra with passion. His great love for symphonic music will live in the hearts of all those who knew him.”

Caswell retired during a major shift in symphony culture that preceded the hiring of current conductor and music director Peter Bay.

Caswell was descended from an old Austin family whose name pops on landmarks all over the city. He spent his later years in the family modest house on a big piece of land in between Laguna Gloria and Mount Bonnell.

He was a collector of vintage piano rolls, which preserved performance of greats such as composer Claude Debussy, and he transferred them to modern recordings.

NOTE: This is a breaking news story and there will be updates to this post.

Richard Buckley fired as artistic director of Austin Opera for alleged inappropriate behavior

Austin Opera has terminated the contract of artistic director and principal conductor Richard Buckley, effective immediately.

Austin Lyric Opera artistic director Richard Buckley (left) in 2014.

Buckley, who conducts on the international operatic circuit, had held that position since 2004.

In a short statement, the opera said an investigation conducted with outside counsel determined that “inappropriate behavior in violation of the company’s policy on harassment had occurred that was not consistent with the values and standards of Austin Opera.”

In respect for those affected by his conduct, Austin Opera trustees said “staff will not disclose further details about the incidents that occurred.”

Buckley, the son of a famous conductor, was known for conducting symphonies and operas far afield and had been part of at least 40 Austin Opera productions.

As recently as March of last year, Buckley’s conducting earned a $1 million commitment  from backers Ernest and Sarah Butler, namesakes for the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas, to support the position of artistic director.

Performances of Austin Opera’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” will continue today and Feb. 4 with conductor Robert Mollicone.

Read the full story on our premium website, Mystatesman.com

How Austin Opera got its groove back

Austin Opera unveiled its most inspired and innovative season in a long, long time on Jan. 25 at the Long Center.

Start with the Opera ATX project, which reaches out to new audiences with fresh material in unexpected venues. The first effort will be “Soldier Songs” by David T. Little. This multi-media experience mixes video, rock, opera and theater to tell the stories of veterans of five wars. It is produced by Beth Morrison Projects, a leader in contemporary opera and will appear at the Paramount Theatre.

Not content with this edgy endeavor, General Manager and CEO Annie Burridge also announced that the Austin company would produce the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” based on the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël,” which reimagines the famous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Hometown hero Kevin Puts wrote the music, Mark Campbell the libretto; they’re the same team that created “The Manchurian Candidate,” which won multiple prizes from the Austin Critics Table last season.

RELATED: Austin Opera stages three masterworks

In addition to these two new pieces, Austin Opera has committed ever more resources to the more traditional repertoire. First up is Giuseppe Verdi‘s tumultuous Shakespearean tragedy, “Otello,” which hasn’t been seen in Austin in decades. The sets come from Cincinnati Opera and the costumes from Portland Opera, while the lead roles will be taken by Issachah Savage, Marina Costa-Jackson and Michael Chliodi.

Late in the season, we’ll be treated to Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Boheme” in a lavish production from San Francisco Opera by way of Michigan Opera Theatre, starring Kang WangElizabeth CaballeroNoel Bouley and Susannah Biller.

This is how Austin opera got its groove back.

 

San Antonio Symphony capsizes again

The San Antonio Symphony, periodically threatened, has canceled the rest of its 2017-2018 season.

Over the weekend, its board of directors decided to suspend play by symphony. Its tricentennial performances this weekend will be its final ones.

John Davenport /San Antonio Express-News
Almost every year since I started reporting on the arts in the 1980s, the San Antonio Symphony has been on the brink of disaster. And I remember stories about its precarious state from my youth.
It’s one of those cases where the old-school donors always insisted it had to compete in size and quality with Houston and Dallas, but without the financial resources, foundations or corporate headquarters that fueled those ensembles. Old San Antonio just never believed they had been left behind.
Austin could never compete in those leagues and knew it, and so remained smallish, part-time and pay-per-play. At one point, discussions were underway to merge the management of the Austin Symphony and its sibling counterpart.
The most recent corporate white knight for San Antonio was H-E-B. Obviously, it didn’t work out.
The more progressive-minded forces down there thought they had solved part of the problem when they moved from the drafty, oversized Majestic Theatre — their counterpart to the Paramount Theatre, but on steroids, since SA was the big city in Texas in the 1920s — to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, a smart project not unlike the Long Center for the Performing Arts that renovated an old, multi-purpose municipal auditorium.
In fact, some of the same design players were involved.
That clearly didn’t work either. The board needed $2.5 million to complete the season.
“We would not be able to raise that much money in such an abbreviated time,” Alice Viroslav, board chairwoman of the 78-year-old Symphony Society of San Antonio, told the Express-News.

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.”

‘The Nutcracker’ and “Drowsy Chaperone’ holiday tidbits

Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker” and the University of Texas’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” will be well worth your entertainment time this coming week. Here’s a taste of two articles about the shows.

 

The corps de ballet dance through a snowy “Nutcracker” scene in 2016, with Constance Doyle up front. Contributed

READ FULL “NUTCRACKER” STORY.

They come and go so quickly.

Oh, sure, some lucky ballet dancers manage to extend their careers for decades. Others happily switch to congruent creative roles at a convenient age. But just when you think you’ve identified all the major players in Ballet Austin — which opens its holiday treat, “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 8 — myriad new faces joins the familiar ones onstage.

Already this season, veteran ballet watchers have noted a spate of younger talent on the Long Center stage. Now you can catch all of them through Dec. 23 because, for “The Nutcracker,” it’s all feet on deck.

PHOTOS: Ballet Austin’s ‘The Nutcracker’ through the years

Often a major role will be played by multiple dancers over the course of a long run. Watch for the relative newcomers during the Christmas party scene in Act 1, or dancing through snowflake magic as part of the corps de ballet later in the same act, or playing featured roles during the divertissements — the always diverting specialty dances — in Act 2. And elsewhere.

Some of these dancers are newly minted members of the main company; others serve in Ballet Austin II, the group’s farm team, as it were.

Now, we are not talking about the darling tots who hide under Mother Ginger’s huge skirt or play with gifts while teasing each other during the party sequence. These are professional dancers who have more recently come into the spotlight. Let’s introduce a few …

Natasha Davison (choreographer, center) and Nick Mayo (director, right) during rehearsals for “The Drowsy Chaperone” at the University of Texas. Contributed by Lawrence Peart

READ FULL “DROWSY CHAPERONE” STORY.

A show within a show, “The Drowsy Chaperone” tests the limits of the musical genre. On one level, it is a celebration of the giddy often mindless musicals of the 1920s. On another, it is a sharp critique of the stereotypes and cultural shorthand of the day.

As such, it makes an ideal candidate for a college musical theater program like the one at the University of Texas that, despite some high points, did not work out and will suspend operations — while Texas State University ramps up its efforts — with this carefully chosen material, while continuing to probe the history of theater for all its shifting meanings.

We asked director Nick Mayo about the musical that plays Dec. 6-10 at the Payne Theatre. Getting into the 1920s spirit of the show, he sent us some telegraphic notes.

Warning: The plot is ridiculously complicated. You see, a musical theater fan called Man in Chair introduces a show within a show called “The Drowsy Chaperone” about a mixed-up wedding that includes gangsters, mistaken identities and exotic locales, all of which infiltrate the Man in Chair’s apartment …

Today’s hires, fires, gifts and honors in Austin arts

We lied. This post reports on no firings. You can relax.

Yet “hires, fires, gifts and honors” sounds like a good catch-all headline. We might use it again.

Zilker Theatre Productions makes two key hires

The group that has staged the Zilker Summer Musical for 60 years has taken on J. Robert “Jimmy” Moore as artistic director. Moore, remembered recently for “Buyer and Cellar” at Zach Theatre, will work alongside Executive Director Kate Hix, already in place. Also, one of those beloved behind-the-scenes heroes, Shannon Richey, has been drafted as director of production. Moore and Richey are trusted veterans who will undoubtedly bolster this free and singularly Austin tradition. No word on next summer’s selection.

J. Robert Moore is now artistic director for Zilker Theatre Productions. Contributed

RELATED: Moore joins the Brotherhood of Barbra.

Austin Opera elects new board chairman

Arts benefactors Gail and Jeff Kodosky. Contributed by Becky Delgado

Austin Opera‘s board of trustees has designated Jeff Kodosky, founder of National Instruments and inveterate arts lovers, as its next chairman. He takes over the position from Elisabeth Waltz, who has served as chairwoman 2016. Kodosky has been with the board and the company through thick and thin since 1996. I’m sure this quiet, smiling man could tell some tales about the group that almost went away at least twice, but also has triumphed repeatedly. Next up is “Carmen’ in November.

Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school. Contributed

Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school

Following a gift of $800,000, Huston-Tillotson University will become the only institution of higher learning in Central Texas, the fourth historically black college or university in the country, and the 196th college or university to join the All-Steinway School club. University officials will unveil the Steinway pianos during their Charter Day Convocation 10 a.m. Oct. 27, 2017 in the King-Seabrook Chapel on the campus at 900 Chicon Street. In addition, Steinway artist Marcus Roberts and the Marcus Roberts Trio will headline a special concert.

Tracy Bonfitto is the Ransom Center’s new curator of art. Contributed by Pete Smith

Ransom Center selects new curator of art

Austinites generally think of the Ransom Center as a literary treasure trove with out-of this-world strengths in modern literature, movies, performing arts and photography. And, oh yes, the Watergate papers. Yet is also houses, preserves and exhibits a lot of excellent visual art, too. Over the summer, Tracy Bonfitto was named curator of art. She comes with sterling credentials from Getty Research Institute, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She’s also a University of Texas grad.

I’m sure she will meld partnerships with the other distinguished and closely related cultural spots in that area of Austin, including the Blanton Museum of Art, LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History and Bullock Texas State History Museum as well as UT’s highly regarded Landmarks public arts program and its Visual Arts Center. Maybe the new Ellsworth Kelly house will help point the way visually and viscerally for more of a interrelated cultural campus.