Austin Chamber Music Festival 2010

Letting young musicians rub bows with the pros

Escher String Quartet
Escher String Quartet

Imagine yourself, say, a 13-year old cellist. You practice as much as you can, take private lessons, perhaps perform in your school's orchestra. But how often do you get the chance to have a conversation with a professional cellist who tours the world with a quartet? Or try your hand at improvisation and composition? Or take a whack in a percussion ensemble just for the heck of it? Or perform country songs with a beloved local singer-songwriter?

At first glance, the Austin Chamber Music Festival seems easy to grasp: 10 concerts by 10 different groups across a spectrum of performance styles and genres, all in one month. In the words of festival Artistic Director Michelle Schumann, though, "It's not just about the concerts." A deeper look at the festival reveals a dizzying schedule of events and opportunities that focus on giving the Austin Chamber Music Center's young students a taste of what life is like for a professional chamber musician, both in and out of the concert hall.

Take the Escher String Quartet's schedule for the festival. By the time they perform their featured concert on July 30, these festival artists-in-residence will have already hosted two free public concerts, two free kids' concerts, a pair of master classes, and a behind-the-scenes presentation, a conversation-based forum in which all festival artists participate.

Thus we arrive at the spiritual center of the festival: the Austin Chamber Music Summer Workshop, which provides exciting opportunities for musicians ages 6 to 18. Held from July 14 to 31, the workshop offers students a chance to get out of the practice room and into the daily rhythms of a living, breathing professional career. I would have killed for the chance to attend a workshop like this as a budding young musician – and I know I'm not the only geek out there who feels the same. Kudos to Schumann and her team of artists for remembering that while inspiration comes in many forms, it's almost always sparked by the opportunity to experience the possibilities that lie ahead of you.

This year, the boundary between festival and workshop blurs even further, as for its final concert the festival will present the workshop's students performing songs they've rehearsed with ... Kelly Willis. Surely this will be a memory to keep.

Meanwhile, featured concerts at the festival this week, all at First Unitarian Church:

Raul Jaurena & the Texas Tango Five, Friday, July 23: Oh my, they're back! Following last year's triumphant experiment, the Texas Tango Five will join bandoneón virtuoso Jaurena, an original player in Astor Piazzolla's band, to bring the house down with the gusty passion of Argentina. Is there a tour in their future? One can only hope.

Claremont Trio, Saturday, July 24: The festival's youngest performers continue their march up the ranks with their first visit to Austin. Featuring Beethoven, Fauré, and Brahms, look for a fresh, youthful take on some of the classics of the chamber canon.

Der Golem, performed by Carpe Diem String Quartet and clarinetist Paul Green, Sunday, July 25: With a live performance of the score composed by Betty Olivero for Paul Wegener's legendary 1915 silent horror film, Der Golem offers the festival's most ambitious exploration of media, setting, and camp.

For more information, call 454-0026 or visit

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Austin Chamber Music Festival, Austin Chamber Music Center, Michelle Schumann, Escher String Quartet, Kelly Willis, Claremont Trio, Raul Jaurena, Texas Tango Five

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