All Over Creation: One Movement Ends, and One Begins
As one chamber music ensemble takes its final bow, another makes its start
What with all the visiting bands playing concerts and showcases beside the usual masses of local musicians, this Friday will be a riot of music in Austin – so many voices and instruments sounding the same night as to all but overwhelm the ears. Still, it would be a shame for the roar to drown out one particularly elegant musical strain rising from the First Presbyterian Church. It will come from a classical concert, one distinguished by a sense of history and occasion: the farewell performance, after 25 years, of one of our first professional classical ensembles, the Chamber Soloists of Austin.
When flutist Karl Kraber, violist Joan Kalisch, violinist Vincent Frittelli, cellist Paul Olefsky, and pianist Anton Nel joined forces on the stage of Symphony Square in June 1987, chamber music groups were about as rare in Austin as balmy weather after Memorial Day. Kraber, who had logged 20 years with the Dorian Woodwind Quartet in New York before moving to Texas, was ready to change that. He and Kalisch founded their own ensemble, drawing colleagues from the University of Texas' music school to fill out the group and inviting accomplished artists from outside Austin to perform with them as guests. The roster changed quickly after that Symphony Square debut – Nel took a job at the Eastman School of Music, Gregory Allen became the pianist, and Barrett Sills filled the cellist's chair after Paul Olefsky left – but the quality of the Chamber Soloists' work always remained high. Indeed, in only its fourth year, the CSA was playing the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., one of just two chamber groups in the whole state invited to perform at the center's splashy 1991 Texas festival. That performance prompted the U.S. Information Agency to send the CSA on a month's tour of South America as artistic ambassadors, playing concerts and teaching master classes in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
In the years since, a few other exceptional music makers have joined the Chamber Soloists' ranks – the late Jennifer Bourianoff and Stephen Redfield on violin, Douglas Harvey on cello – and many others have sat in with the group as guests, including harpist Elaine Barber, oboeist Ian Davidson, bassist David Dawson, French horn player Tom Hale, and singers Virginia DuPuy, Sheryl Parrish, Stephanie Prewitt, Suzanne Ramo, Kathlene Ritch, David Stevens, and David Small. And the CSA proved a leader in working with not only fine local musicians but also fine local composers, commissioning music from Dan Welcher, Kathryn Mishell, and Kevin Puts, and devoting its first recording to works by Austinites Kent Kennan, Donald Grantham, and Welcher.
Time, however, takes its toll – and with small mom-and-pop arts groups where mom and pop do all the fundraising, scheduling, and promotion, as well as rehearsing, performing, and touring, that toll is all the more exhausting. So Kalisch and Kraber are drawing to a close the ongoing life of the Chamber Soloists of Austin. The door remains open for more recordings or occasional touring dates, but as far as presenting a season of concerts and performances, it's done. To show its gratitude to the community that supported it for a quarter-century, the ensemble is offering a farewell concert free to all comers. The program includes Mozart's Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra; Francis Poulenc's Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet; the "Agathon" movement of Leonard Bernstein's Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp, and Percussion; and, fittingly, Haydn's Symphony No. 45, nicknamed the "Farewell" Symphony. How grand it would be to have a full house bidding farewell to this ensemble that has given so much to the culture of our city.
Coincidentally, the very next night, one of our newest chamber ensembles gives a notable concert. Like the CSA, the Artisan Quartet consists of some distinguished performers with the Austin Symphony – Richard Kilmer and Paula Bird, violins; Bruce Williams, viola; and Chamber Soloists alum Doug Harvey, cello – and it's making a splashy showing on the national stage early in its existence – in Artisan's case, a New York debut at the Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall on March 22. The March 17 concert in the Blackerby Violin Shop's charming little music space is a preview of the Carnegie Hall recital, with music by Beethoven, Grieg, and Roberto Sierra. It also serves as a prelude for the quartet's new chamber music series in the Riverbend Chapel at Riverbend Church. The first season will offer concerts this coming September and next March, with plans to expand to four concerts a year in subsequent seasons. You know, wouldn't it also be grand to have a full house giving this new ensemble a big send-off to New York, providing it with the same kind of support the Chamber Soloists of Austin have known? It matters that we show the classical musicians among us that we're listening to them. And there may be no more important time than during the cacophony of South by Southwest that we can hear from them when one movement ends and another begins.
The Chamber Soloists of Austin presents its final public concert Friday, March 16, 8pm, at First Presbyterian Church, 8001 Mesa. For more information, visit www.chambersoloists.com.
The Artisan Quartet presents its concert "Old and New" Saturday, March 17, 8pm, at the Blackerby Violin Shop, 1111 W. Anderson. For more information, call 497-5496 or visit www.artisanquartet.com.