Austin's Classical Music Preview 'Tis the Season

I've written about the

Austin classical music scene for almost 10 years now, and I can't remember a season more star-studded and thrilling. After all, any season that starts out with Itzhak Perlman, Leontyne Price (a living national treasure) and a new Philip Glass opera (La Belle et la Bete) simply has to be spectacular. Others scheduled to appear include Pinchas Zuckerman, Eugene Fodor, Philippe Entremont (one of my childhood idols) -- and, yes! -- cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

First off, let's talk about the opera season: if you're an opera lover then you'll have plenty to choose from this year. The Leontyne Price and the Philip Glass performances are already history, but on November 17-19, The Austin Lyric Opera will present a new production, with a set designed especially for the ALO, of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor. This classic tragedy is followed by the company's first production of an opera by Richard Wagner, Tannhauser, in January. The ALO promises the latest in cutting-edge technology featuring the scenic projections of designer John Boesche. They finish in March with a reprise of their gorgeous production of Giuseppe Verdi's masterpiece, La Traviata. All the ALO performances this year will be in UT's Bass Concert Hall and feature Supertitles (English libretto translations projected over the stage). Their performances always sell out, so get your tickets now.

Another excellent fix for opera fans is provided by the UT Opera Theatre. While these productions aren't anywhere near as lavish the ALO's, they are often quite wonderful, adventurous, and sometimes brilliant. A good example of the latter two categories was the production of Peter Brook's radical version of Bizet's Carmen they mounted several years ago (something the ALO couldn't possibly have done and gotten away with ). This year they seem to be playing it safe by opening with Mozart's wonderful Marriage of Figaro. Two more full-scale productions will follow, though at press time they hadn't been selected. The two productions still to be announced are: an early Classic/Baroque opera, and an opera from the Romantic period -- so stay tuned.

The Austin Symphony and Maestro Sung Kwak, whose programming is always elegant if a tad conservative for my taste, have planned another varied and intriguing season of music for their legions of subscribers (the ASO concerts generally sell out way in advance and for good reason -- they're wonderful!). This year the ASO will be performing pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, Haydn, Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Albinoni, Paganini, Brahms, Ravel, Shostakovich, Bruckner, Franck, Schumann, and Mozart. They'll also be sneaking in some more contemporary and unfamiliar stuff such as Kalinnikov, Shchederin, Kennan, Addinsell, and Harbison.

The Performing Arts Center at UT has a full schedule of national classical touring shows on their agenda. Though performances by Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Paco de Lucia, and the Cleveland Quartet were presented earlier this season, those remaining on the program include Merce Cunningham, the Cavani String Quartet, the Klemperer Trio, and Yo-Yo Ma (with the Austin Symphony Orchestra). As usual, the PAC lineup is amazing and is presented on the UT campus in Bass Concert Hall.

Perhaps the most prestigious home-grown classical music event is The Jessen Series, which consists of master performances by distinguished UT Music Department faculty artists. The new season began last month with concerts by Ronald Crutcher and Lita Guerra, as well as An Evening of Chopin. The Series continues through April of next year and features many of UT's finest, concluding with a performance by the highly acclaimed Fritelli-Martin Duo.

The Austin Civic Chorus, now in its 30th year and boasting 140 members, began their season with a performance of Beethoven's Mass in C in November. Next is their traditional holiday favorite -- The Seventh Annual Sing-It-Yourself Messiah -- where the audience isn't just encouraged, but expected to sing along with the Chorus. They even select an audience member to conduct the Hallelujah Chorus encore from the podium. Last year's Messiah drew a crowd of almost 900 people. Also in December, the Austin Civic Chorus appears with the ASO at its annual free Family Holiday concert. In the Spring of '96, an All-Baroque Concert and performances of Mozart's Mass in C Minor are planned.

The International Festival-Institute at Round Top, Texas, is in the middle of its "August-to-April" season. The benefit series continues in January with French harpsichordist Brigitte Haudebourg and flutist Karl Kraber, who will perform a program of works by J.S. Bach. In February, pianist James Dick will perform works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Prokofiev. In the spring, the Festival-Institute schedule includes pianist Eugene Rowley, the Klemperer Piano Trio, and the Early Music Festival. The Institute also offers weekend accommodations and meals in the historic Menke House. The concerts, overnight accommodations, and meals are a major source of funding of scholarships for students at Round Top's Summer Institute. Performances in the "August-to-April" Benefit Concerts series are held in the Festival Concert Hall located at Round Top, Highway 237 at Jaster County Road. Reservations for overnight stays and meals are required.

An absolutely exquisite untapped mine of live (and mostly free) classical music performances can be found almost daily at UT in the form of student recitals, lectures, and guest performances. These performances range from solo pieces and small ensembles, to larger orchestral and choral works. Some days the Department of Music has three or four different offerings from which to choose and they are always worthwhile.

The Austin Chamber Music Center sponsors a variety of performances throughout the season. Of particular interest is their Intimate Concerts Series, where small chamber ensembles perform in beautiful showcase homes. And since these are private homes, the tickets go fast. Make your reservations now.

There are many other notable music ensembles in town, including the Capitol City Men's Chorus, the Austin Choral Union, and the Austin Handel-Haydn Society (who will be presenting "Messiah as Handel Heard It, Part I" next month). The New Texas Festival and the annual, astonishing Chamber Music Marathon (which benefits AIDS Services of Austin) are two events not to be missed.

For many years The Central Presbyterian Church downtown has sponsored the Noonday Concert Series every Thursday, along with an inexpensive light lunch. This charming series is quite popular and is one of the oldest music programs in town. Every week, various local and visiting musicians and singers are featured here in short but wonderful performances.

We couldn't mention everything, so that pretty much wraps up this year's offerings. Though some very prestigious performers have already made their way through town (Perlman, Glass, etc.), there's still plenty of wonderful events coming up this season that shouldn't be missed. Check it out. n

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