Each year, the Austin Symphony holds the well-regarded Butler Texas Young Composers Competition. The best pieces can be heard during the Texas Young Composers Concert, to take place on June 16 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in the big house, Dell Hall.
This year’s winners attend high schools and universities the Austin, Dallas and Houston areas. Seattle-based Ars Nova Music will publish the top five winners at arsnovamusic.com. Austin super-donors Sarah and Ernest Butler gave the $1.2 million to establish the endowment that pays for the prizes.
Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.
What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Eric Leshinsky (lead) with Colter Sonneville, Megahn Skornia and Wenjie Zhao.
The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.
Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:
For the past five years, the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria has benefitted the Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting on the grounds of the Clara Driscoll villa to create an elevated atmosphere at dusk and into the evening. This year, that effort included the passage of the S.S. Hangover through the lagoon with members of an Austin music collective playing a dirge-like piece.
Visual artists do love a bit of theater!
Guests were in no hurry to pass up cocktails a key points in and around the villa, but the seated dinner took place under tents on the front lawn. Happily, I was placed next to designers Lydia G. Cook and Geoff Fritz from the Cambridge, Mass. firm of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. They helped explained the company’s master plan for the Contemporary’s Marcus Sculpture Park, including connectivity to nearby Mayfield Park.
The modest but tasty dinner arrived courtesy of restauranteur Tyson Cole along with chefs Ed Sura of Uchiko and Joe Zoccoli of Uchi. (Note to other Austin charity hosts: You don’t need a big slab of animal protein to satisfy.) The evening climaxed with an unusually civilized live auction featuring work by artists close to projects at the Contemporary.
“When all was said and done, we raised more than $500,000 in the live and silent auctions,” reported the museum’s spokeswoman, Nicole Chism Griffin. “One hundred percent of these funds will go to support exhibitions at both of our locations. We also raised $325,0000 toward the purchase of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk.” Our goal had been $100,000 for the evening! This $325,000 will go toward fulfilling the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation’s challenge grant of $500,000 (for the purchase).”
I hear that some guests danced till the wee hours.
Some notes on the Austin Symphony‘s recent concert at the Long Center.
• One way to fill a house: Schedule Beethoven‘s Fifth. It is the duty of artistic leaders such as Peter Bay to expand tastes and lead audiences in new directions. Still, the Fifth — if well done, and it was — satisfies and enlightens with each fresh interpretation. It comes with the added benefit of a standing-room-only crowd.
• I’ve tried to sit in every part of the Long Center house since it opened 10 years ago. Row 4 on the orchestra level was not the right place to take in the concert’s opening piece, Michael Torke‘s “Bright Blue Music.” All I heard was the lower range of the strings and all I saw were the polished shoes of the musicians.
• Turns out the same seat was ideal for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion.” Here, only the strings really mattered and they came together beautifully in conjunction with violinist Vadim Gluzman‘s playful then profound solo turn. Booked as part of the “Bernstein at 100” celebration, this near-concerto is a gem to revive more often.
• Bay has proven time and again that he can take epic forms to ever higher heights. Last season, it was Mahler‘s Sixth, an almost brutally difficult symphony to get right. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, the challenge instead is overfamiliarity. Bay and his always advancing ensemble treated the first movement with rhythmic clarity, the second with architectural balance, the third with taut force and the final movement with bristling brilliance.
Forget the Oscars. Never mind the Tonys. Pay no attention to the Grammys.
Give us the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards.
Sure, last night’s ceremony at the Long Center clocked in at just under four hours. Nevertheless, we loved almost every minute of this energetic toast to 38 participating high schools and their remarkable talents.
Some quick observations and then some winners. Playbill’s Tyler Mount was the show’s best emcee yet. Fast, funny and on target with his “paid segues” and promos. Despite the total running time, the show, which highlights dozens of slickly produced musical numbers and video selfies from Broadway pros, felt tighter, more on time this year.
Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan just about stole the show and earned the evening’s only unadulterated standing ovation. He showed up to read municipal proclamation — usually a dull task — but donned a little, regal hat and performed a magnificent version to the tune of King George III‘s “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.”
To use a show biz term: He killed! Killed! He should come back every year.
Enough is enough: Here are the top winners. A full list will come later this morning.
Best Production: “Adams Family,” Dripping Springs High School
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Katie Haberman, Dripping Springs High School
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Stone Mountain, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School
The Austin Critics Table recently announced the latest group to be inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.
The five honored Austinites have contributed to the city’s cultural scene over the course of many years. They will be inducted 7 p.m. June 4 at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd. The event is free. Following the inductions, the arts critics will give out awards for the 2017-2018 season. Lots of awards.
Instead, General Director and CEO Annie Burridge has appointed Tim Myers, most recently artistic and music director of North CarolinaOpera,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.
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.”
“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.
As Austin Symphony reveals its new season, Music Director Peter Bay talks about a decisive change in direction.
“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.
Since 2001, the Texas Cultural Trust, an advocacy group, has been honoring our state’s luminaries through the Texas Medal of Arts. The laurels are bestowed every other year at one of the most glamorous galas in Texas. The most recent one in 2017 at Bass Concert Hall was a blow-out.
Send your nominations in by April 5, 2018 for the February 2019 edition of the honors. Categories include architecture, arts education, arts patron (corporate, foundation or individual), dance, design, film, lifetime achievement, literary arts, media/multimedia, music, television, theater and visual arts.
For a complete list of past honorees, go here. The 2017 winners included Eloise and JohnPaul DeJoria with Paul Mitchell/Patron, Kris Kristofferson, Lynn Wyatt, Lauren Anderson, Yolanda Adams, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tobin Endowmen, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Leo Villareal, Frank Welch, John Phillip Santos, Scott Pelley and Kenny Rogers.
Austin theater veteran Kenneth O. “Ken” Johnson died at home Friday of a heart attack. He was 82.
“Ken died here on Gault Street sitting in a red swivel chair in front of his computer and TV,” said longtime friend and housemate Maggie Cox. “Two of his dogs were in his office with him.”
According to his friends, Johnson came to Austin from Port Arthur in 1965. He transformed the community theater troupe known as Austin Civic Theatre into Zachary Scott Theatre, which is now Zach Theatre. Johnson named it after an Austin-reared stage and movie star who died in 1965 and whose family had been prominent in the city through several generations.
Johnson had long runs as the director of at least two other groups, Center Stage and Hyde Park Theatre, and he participated in the revival of the Paramount Theatre. Johnson wrote many plays and screenplays, most notably “Jesse’s Closet,” his stage drama that he adapted and directed for the screen.
Tempestuous and sometimes controversial, Johnson kept close a coterie of theater friends. Cox worked with him in various capacities for decades and invited him to share her home during his later years. She said that Johnson raised the general level of quality in Austin theater, including at what would become Zach.
“His abrasive nature was like a grain of sand in an oyster shell before he left,” she said. “Strong management practices after that helped propel Zach Theatre toward the grand theater it is today.”
Dock Jackson, a Bastrop public servant who worked with Johnson mainly in the 1970s, praised his skills as director, producer, writer, theater owner, actor, singer, set designer, costume coordinator and master carpenter.
Jackson: “There wasn’t anything he didn’t or couldn’t do in the theater.”
Johnson worked energetically until the end. He eagerly took to YouTube and created many short films for that format.