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Texas Performing Arts

Classical gassed up

By Robert Faires, Fri., July 1, 2011

Texas Performing Arts
Courtesy of So Percussion

Classical music in Austin is about to get a whole lot hipper.

By which I mean this most time-honored, formal type of music will soon be getting a massive infusion of relevance, of immediacy and experimentation and hipness. And at the same time, a lot more people in town will be getting hip to classical music's appeal.

The reason for this is a hefty $450,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Texas Performing Arts, that presenter of concerts, plays, and other performances at the University of Texas. Kathy Panoff, who runs the center and who's shown in her first two years there some real daring in booking classical acts (daredevil new music ensembles eighth blackbird and Bang on a Can All-Stars, composer/video artist Jean Piché, et al.), wants to go even further in making Austin a center for artists who are expanding the boundaries of classical music through interdisciplinary collaborations, new compositions, and technology. She wants this city to be as jazzed about classical as it is about every other kind of music, as well as the new theatre, new dance, and new art that's created here. The Mellon grant is a tool for doing that, providing three years of seed money for programming interdisciplinary projects, commissioning new works, expanding artist residencies, and forming a task force of area musicians, scholars, educators, arts administrators, civic leaders, and patrons to discuss how to integrate classical music more deeply into the cultural life of Austin. And its pot of almost a half-million dollars will be matched – two-thirds of it by the UT College of Fine Arts and the university and one-third by Texas Performing Arts – to boost this initiative to the $900,000 mark.

The biggest chunk of the grant – almost 45% – is slated to support the presentation of interdisciplinary projects. Two or three works have been identified for each of the next three years, ranging from theatre-baroque opera mash-up The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, starring John Malkovich, on next season's schedule, to the music theatre work Rappahannock County, co-commissioned from Ricky Ian Gordon and Mark Campbell by Texas Performing Arts, to the newly commissioned opera for solo percussion and electronically processed sound, Ilimaq, by John Luther Adams, to a music/text/multimedia collaboration by the Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson. Roughly a quarter of the grant will support new commissions, including Ilimaq; a double string quartet by UT faculty composer Dan Welcher for the Miró Quartet (to be premiered with the Shanghai Quartet); a work for string quartet and chamber orchestra by former UT composer Kevin Puts, also for Miró (co-commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Schubert Club); and a new work that might combine a choir of voices and a choir of guitars involving the Austin Classical Guitar Society and Conspirare. Another quarter of the grant will go toward a 10-day residency at UT each season for a visiting chamber ensemble. The three identified for the grant period are So Percussion, eighth blackbird, and Brooklyn Rider. Five percent of the grant will support the establishment of the classical music task force, which will begin meeting this fall to research and propose initiatives on which local arts organizations might collaborate and work to implement them in the final year of the grant.

Let's see: More of the best and bravest new music makers in the world are coming to town, staying longer, and making new brave new music here, while local lovers of that brave new music scheme work together on getting more people here to love it. Welcome to the live classical music capital of the world.

For more information, visit www.texasperformingarts.org.

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