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Austin Symphony Orchestra

ASO turns to Kickstarter for help in making its first CD – and rescuing a forgotten composer

By Robert Faires, Fri., March 14, 2014

Austin Symphony Orchestra

Crowdfunding isn't just for the little guys anymore. Once indie artists with limited resources proved they could fund projects costing thousands with microdonations, it was just a matter of time before major arts organizations followed their lead. Case in point: the Austin Symphony Orchestra, which is using Kickstarter to raise cash for its first commercial CD. The campaign, launched Feb. 21, seeks $30,000 to record four compositions by Edward Burlingame Hill. If the name has you asking, "Who?" that's the point. Hill is a musical figure remembered more as a teacher of composers than a composer himself. But while he did influence some notable composers in 20th century American music – his Harvard pupils included Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter, and Virgil Thomson – Hill also wrote music himself, much of it incorporating the syncopated rhythms and style of George Gershwin's music, and much of it unjustly neglected – so believe local music scholar Karl Miller and ASO Director Peter Bay. They see this CD as a way of bringing this work which had never been recorded – some of it never even played in concert – to the world.

Last May, the ASO premiered Hill's Symphony No. 4 and in January performed two concertinos and a divertimento with pianist Anton Nel. Having been there, I'll testify to their musical value. As I said of Hill's music in a review of the January concert, "A 20th century sensibility is encoded in their DNA: the casual discord and jangly rhythms of the modern metropolis; the swift, shifting tempos of its restlessly mobile citizens. They're quick, mutable, improvisatory, because modern life is, and with those qualities embodied in jazz (our nation's gift to music), they adopt its style, giving Hill's music an American signature as distinctive as a Gershwin Rhapsody." In the Concertino No. 2, "the piano – played by Anton Nel with his customary elegance and finesse – seemed to wander through Manhattan, dancing through the cosmopolitan hubbub on the streets, then contemplating the skyline from a penthouse. ... In Hill we hear his time, its lightness, fleetness, changeability, and, remarkably, 75 years later it still sounds fresh and charms our ear." Hear for yourself in musical samples from the concerts on ASO's Kickstarter page.

Two weeks in, ASO is halfway to the $30K, which won't cover even half of the recording's cost but will help pay for the orchestra and engineer, equipment transfers, editing, and publicity. You have until March 24 to contribute. Visit www.kickstarter.com or www.austinsymphony.org.

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