Austin Chamber Music Festival 2010
Old friends, fresh faces, and a little bit of badass
By Michael Kellerman, Fri., July 16, 2010
Throughout the year, the Austin Chamber Music Center celebrates the traditions of chamber music with programs that highlight Austin's prodigious talents. When July rolls around, though, the center switches gears, throwing the door wide to explore the best – and most unique – musical collaborations taking place around the world. It's summertime, after all. When better to let loose and explore?
Chamber music occupies a unique position in the arts economy. Whereas large ensembles or superstar soloists require huge investments for tour stops, chamber groups tend to be more limber and accessible. Even the most lauded of them requires just a fraction of the fees necessary to present a Yo-Yo Ma or Hilary Hahn. This reality creates a kind of a sweet spot for chamber musicians that's rare in performance today: They benefit from touring as much as possible, and since their fees are affordable, the opportunity for them to be booked widely and often is extensive. This is a win-win for any ambitious ensemble, new or seasoned. Both will be in evidence over the next three weeks.
Following its opening weekend production of the chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (see review, "'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat'"), the 2010 Austin Chamber Music Festival turns to the eccentric and diverse world of chamber music, creating a musical conversation about opportunity, innovation, and that good old hallmark of the genre, intimacy. Over coffee, artistic director and regular performer Michelle Schumann discussed the festival from the inside looking out. What first strikes you is the sheer rigor of the festival's schedule. In Schumann's words, "You know in chamber music you better love what you do, because you're always working." No one who has seen Schumann lead the center, from the podium or the piano, would question whether she's found the right gig.
Between now and the end of the month, Schumann will oversee eight major concerts, eight free concerts (including two just for kids), a summer workshop, nine Behind the Scenes conversations with festival artists, master classes, receptions, and more. This is precisely the point of a festival, though: For a finite period of time, it's an invitation to openly obsess about something you love, without public scorn.
This week's festival highlights include three concerts at Bates Recital Hall with old friends, fresh faces, and a little bit of badass:
Cavani String Quartet, Friday, July 16: Celebrating its silver anniversary, the Cavani returns to the festival for the third time. Schumann will join them for the sprawling Brahms Quintet in F minor, admittedly her personal favorite piece in existence.
The Bad Plus, Saturday, July 17: The jazz trio that Rolling Stone called "as badass as highbrow gets" descends on Austin – the blogosphere is already abuzz – with an avant-garde take on the world of pop music.
Brentano String Quartet, Sunday, July 18: This exquisite ensemble, which arguably occupies the top slot among quartets performing today, visits the festival for the first time. Don't miss the Austin premiere of Stephen Hartke's Night Songs for a Desert Flower, written for the quartet.
For more information, call 454-0026 or visit www.austinchambermusic.org.