A Guide to Austin Classical Music
The virtuosi who know the score and make beautiful music happen here
Don't let the word "classical" throw you. In the context of classical music in Austin, it doesn't mean formal. It doesn't mean stodgy. It doesn't mean stiff and lacking a pulse. Classical music may be stuffy and inert to the point of lifelessness elsewhere, but here it's alive, as alive as any other kind of music grouped under the banner of the Live Music Capital. The organizations and ensembles dedicated to the classical music of the past animate it with passion and virtuosity – and not just in concert halls and churches; they bring Bach to bars and Brahms to brewpubs. And most every group in the classical camp is also keen on new classical music – works made for today. Concerts are programmed with symphonies and suites and art songs composed in the last 25 years by artists who are still living. More importantly, Austin itself is home to a wealth of composers who, as I've written before, seem to think they're in late 18th-century Vienna and keep pumping out music for orchestras and symphonic bands, chamber pieces for instruments of all kinds, art songs, operas, cantatas, scores for dance and theatre works, soundtracks for films – several hundred over the past decade, and they keep coming. With the Butler School of Music developing the next generation of composers and Austin Symphony Orchestra and Golden Hornet working with teen composers, we can be assured that the flow of new classical music won't stop soon. And the educational programs at the Austin Chamber Music Center, Austin Classical Guitar, and the Armstrong Community Music School ensure there will be musicians around to play all that new work. Given the size of our classical scene, providing a comprehensive guide to every key component would be like naming every important composer since Monteverdi, but here's a start, beginning with groups and artists that have performances coming up soon. For the expanded guide, visit austinchronicle.com/arts.
The New York Times once described him as "uncommonly elegant," and that may come as close as words can to capturing what distinguishes Nel as a pianist. His hands move across the keys with a dancer's grace, conjuring music with the same quality. Whether playing majestic Beethoven, sprightly Mozart, or tempestuous Schubert, the Johannesburg native attunes the sounds to the material with artful precision. Nel made his concert debut at age 12 – after only two years of lessons – then went on to win piano competitions across South Africa, England, and the U.S., capping the streak with first prize in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition at Carnegie Hall. UT snapped up this Steinway savant for its faculty while he was still in his 20s. Now in great demand as a guest artist, the Butler School of Music professor of piano balances his travels with local work, such as playing with the Austin Symphony and La Follia, and performing in the play 33 Variations at Zach Theatre.
Coming up: La Follia's Herd of Harpsichords April 26 & 27 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
A man who keeps the beat like almost no one else. Burritt is a masterful percussionist, able to elicit crisp and enchanting sounds from anything he strikes with a stick or mallet: drum, marimbas, vibraphone, glockenspiel, cymbals, or pretty much whatever object is within his arm's reach. His skill is matched only by his infectious enthusiasm, which makes you feel like percussion has to be the coolest way to make music and may be one reason he's sought out so frequently as a collaborator: with fellow faculty members at the Butler School of Music, with James Dick at the Round Top Festival Institute, with his protégés of line upon line percussion. He regularly provides the backbeat for the Grammy-winning vocal ensemble Conspirare, and his work on the 2009 recording Conspirare in Concert earned Burritt his own Grammy nomination. That enthusiasm also makes him an outstanding educator, leading students at the Butler School or hosting a webisode of his Percussion Axiom TV series.
A triple threat on the classical scene: a singer of remarkable power and feeling, an indie producer with an original approach to her work, and an educator/administrator who's communicating the value of music to new generations. Her mezzo was used to thrilling effect in Graham Reynolds' chamber opera Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance, but Cass has proven she can also hold the big stage, as she did with witchy glee in Austin Opera's Hansel and Gretel, and hold the barroom, as in La Femme Bohème at the North Door. That was for Local Opera, Local Artists, the company she co-founded to stage opera in new ways and in nontraditional venues. (LOLA also has an ongoing series at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op.) Offstage, Cass is executive director of the Armstrong Community Music School, a leading force for all-ages music education in Austin, where she's taught voice since 2004.
If it's the woeful keening of a cello you want, this Harvard and Yale grad can surely provide it, drawing from his instrument a mournful moan to pierce the heart. But Tsang can just as readily use it to produce romance, action, even comedy. His musicianship and technique allow him to express the full range of colors and emotions with his cello. That's been recognized by orchestras from New York to Moscow to Hong Kong and, fortunately, by orchestras and chamber groups closer to home. He has played with groups across the state, and locally, his work on the 2009 recording Conspirare in Concert earned Tsang a Grammy nomination. He has a special collaborator in pianist Anton Nel, with whom he's toured the complete Beethoven works for cello and piano, recorded Brahms' cello sonatas and four Hungarian dances, and performed on an episode of the PBS series In Context. Tsang teaches cello at the UT Butler School of Music.
An opera company with the talent, daring, and creative resourcefulness that befit the city it calls home. Born from an absence of opera outside the UT campus, the company founded by Walter Ducloux and Joseph McClain in 1986 (Austin Lyric Opera for its first 28 years) has made a point of treating opera as a living art form, and has been as eager to tackle new works as restage old favorites. That's meant being among the first to mount Carlisle Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree, André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, Kevin Puts' The Manchurian Candidate and Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night, and Philip Glass' Waiting for the Barbarians in its U.S. premiere. AO productions are distinguished less by the spectacle seen at Texas big guns like Houston Grand Opera than by stirring voices and dynamic staging, as in the 2018 Otello, which mesmerized even in concert dress with minimal set. The season of three productions at Dell Hall is now supplemented by Opera ATX, presenting new works in alternative venues.
Coming up: La Bohème April 27-May 5 at Dell Hall in the Long Center.
A professional chorus of considerable focus: just eight voices singing only polyphonic music of Europe from the 15th through 18th centuries. In forming this group in 2011, Dr. James Morrow – who's had experience with a variety of choirs as director of choral activities in UT's Butler School of Music – wanted a choir small enough to be "highly virtuosic." Eight provided just enough singers to cover the vocal division of most of the repertoire in the baroque and Renaissance eras – a period where Morrow finds the music to be "transcendent." That's become evident time and time again in the ensemble's performances, whether it's singing Spanish music by Tomás Luis de Victoria, English music by Thomas Tallis, or German music by Heinrich Schütz. As noted in one review: "The voices soar and dip and swoop and glide with the breathtaking elegance of birds riding currents in the air."
Coming up: When Heaven Is Wedded to Earth: Franco-Flemish Music of Springtime May 2 at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church; May 3 at St. Louis Catholic Church
The most honored professional choir in Austin and one of the leading vocal ensembles anywhere. Since 1991 (founded as the New Texas Festival), Craig Hella Johnson's company of voices has steadily built a world-class reputation and a global audience. That's come through a Grammy Award and several nominations, recordings released through the prestigious Harmonia Mundi label that have cracked the Billboard Top 10, two PBS specials, performing at the Eighth World Choral Symposium in Copenhagen, touring Johnson's oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard across the U.S. – including to Laramie, Wyo. – and singing at the service where Shepard's ashes were interred at Washington National Cathedral. The key to Conspirare's success is twofold: the exceptional quality of the voices – every singer is a soloist in power and artistry – and Johnson's ability to pull them all into a single, singular sound – "to breathe together," as the ensemble's name translates. With classical material, Conspirare touches the vault of heaven, but its repertoire also encompasses spirituals, folk songs, works by 20th-century composers, pop hits, and world premieres commissioned from the likes of Nico Muhly, Robert Kyr, David Lang, Jake Heggie, and Jocelyn Hagen. And it invites the audience to join in at its regular Big Sing programs.
A scrappy little classical music company that believes "we all sing better together." Founded by mezzo-soprano Liz Cass and director Rebecca Herman to mount the world's first version of La Bohème cast entirely with women, Local Opera, Local Artists – aka LOLA – not only produced that show to sold-out houses and a trio of Critics Table Awards, it has gone on to stage a three-character take on Carmen, an original chamber opera We Might Be Struck by Lightning, and an adaptation of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito; commissioned a new opera from Austin composer Peter Stopschinski based on Terry Galloway's play Lardo Weeping; and produces an ongoing concert series at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op. Bars, brewpubs, small stages ... it's all the same to LOLA, as long as it gets Austin closer to opera.
One Ounce Opera
A band of classical rebels determined to bring opera to the people and prove how fresh it can be. Since it was founded by Julie Fiore in 2012, OOO has taken its act to spaces as varied as Red 7 and the Blanton Museum of Art, Butterfly Bar and Central Presbyterian Church, upending the decorum of opera with covers of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Rock Me Amadeus," Jackass: The Movie dubbed with opera clips, and subverted holiday carols. But jokes aren't all this group is about. It takes its classical music seriously, and its singers will have you hearing beauty in old arias you didn't know was there. And OOO is seriously dedicated to new music, having premiered the Frankenstein-inspired transgender operetta There's Beauty in the Beast and established two series featuring new art songs and short operas chosen from an international call for entries, which it presents as Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song and Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Opera.
A gifted, elegant conductor whose spirited style – the motions always fluid and easy, the baton dancing – teases forth sounds of remarkable feeling and depth. Bay is best known as the Austin Symphony Orchestra music director, a post he's held for over 20 years (almost one-fifth of ASO's existence). His leadership has revitalized the orchestra and its repertoire, but he's about more than one institution. He's shared his talents with groups across the city: Ballet Austin, Austin Opera, Austin Chamber Music Center, Austin Civic Orchestra, high school orchestras – even Forklift Danceworks, where he collaborated on Solo Symphony, a piece inspired by his conducting moves. His generosity and commitment to the community has made Bay a respected and beloved figure. Small wonder then that the community was eager to work with Bay in realizing his decades-long dream of conducting Leonard Bernstein's monumental MASS in 2018.
Coming up: Austin Opera's La Bohème April 27-May 5 at Dell Hall in the Long Center; Ballet Austin's Giselle May 10-12 at Dell Hall; and ASO's A Shakespearean Evening May 17 & 18 at Dell Hall.
For her piano playing alone, Michelle Schumann merits inclusion in the Guide to Austin Classical Music. Her fervor and fire will sweep you into the heart of a composition, and her proficiency at the keyboard will make vivid a work's intricacies. That she has shown this repeatedly as a featured artist with both the Austin Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Austin just enhances her status. But Schumann has also greatly enhanced this classical scene as artistic director for the Austin Chamber Music Center and its yearly summer festival. She programs music and artists that testify to chamber music's lasting appeal and relevance today, with artists at the top of the field (Emerson String Quartet, our own Miró Quartet) and those changing the face of chamber music (the Bad Plus, Chargaux, invoke). And her love for music is infectious; listening to her effuse about Brahms or Beethoven is to be won over to the classical cause.
The artist who puts the "old-school" in the Austin classical scene – the foremost cultivator of our taste in the music of the medieval, Renaissance, and baroque periods. From the minute he hit the city limits in 1979, Johnson has been playing and promoting the European music that predates classical – Monteverdi, Buxtehude, Palestrina, and their peers, as well as chants, motets, madrigals, and songs of the troubadours from Scotland to Spain. He's made his contributions in the storied early-music band Clearlight Waites, as director of the Early Music Ensemble in UT's School of Music, and as founder and artistic director of the Texas Early Music Project. The Big Spring native's 17 years with the Early Music Ensemble earned him Early Music America's Thomas Binkley Award and established him as an early-music specialist of international renown, performing all over the globe.
An artist whose mission is to break down the formality that keeps people from feeling at ease with classical music – or even hearing the music. That was the purpose of Revel, the "classical band" she founded with cellist Joel Becktell in 2008. The concerts might be held in coffeehouses, ballet studios, private homes, bookstores, bars – 4th Tap Brewing Co-op is a favored site for Revel shows – anyplace that will loosen up the crowd and let the music in. And her programs aren't just music. McElhaney likes to collaborate with poets as well as musicians, and she has a knack for finding wordsmiths like Nathan Brown whose plainspoken, often witty verse engages an audience. But McElhaney can do that herself at the piano, investing herself so fully in the music, coming to it with such ardor, that the results are absorbing and exhilarating. She can also be heard on KMFA Classical 89.5 as a host of its Night Music program.
The driving force for opera at the University of Texas for decades. What was supposed to be a short stint on the 40 Acres in the Eighties turned into a career stay in Austin, with DeSimone giving university students invaluable preparation for an operatic career through productions of high quality and a diverse repertoire, much of it built on 20th-century operas and works of musical theatre, as well as new works. The Butler Opera Center has presented the American premiere of Luis Jaime Cortez's La Tentación de San Antonio and the world premieres of The Scarecrow, by Joseph Turrin; The Old Majestic, by Robert Xavier Rodriguez; Bandanna, by Daron Aric Hagen; Cynthia Parker, by Julia Smith; and operas by UT composers Donald Grantham (The Boor) and Dan Welcher (Della's Gift and Holy Night). As a result, DeSimone has made the program recognized throughout the land.
A conductor with an affinity for new music, especially when it allows him to collaborate with non-classical artists. In 2008, Baldwin assumed artistic leadership of the Texas Choral Consort, which accepts singers from across the community without auditions. But he doesn't take it easy on them; he's challenged them with Haydn's The Creation, Bach's Mass in B Minor, and Brahms' Requiem, as well as new works by local composers Graham Reynolds, Steve Parker, Dan Welcher, and Baldwin himself. He started Indie Orchestra Nights, where the choir – renamed Panoramic Voices in 2016 – backs up artists such as Moving Panoramas, Roky Erickson, Nakia, and Dana Falconberry. As the Blanton Museum's curator of music, Baldwin has enlisted more collaborators: New Music Co-op, line upon line percussion, and the Invincible Czars (who play the annual Rocking Holiday Extravaganza). Baldwin has shown a fearlessness in tackling monumental projects and an ability to draw from massed voices a richness of balance and harmony.
We'll skip the puns on the word "baroque" that too often accompany stories about this group, which specializes in that era's music, and simply say that its masterly devotion to works and practices of the 16th to 18th centuries make for elegant and gorgeous performances. Sonatas, cantatas, concertos, oratorios, and more by Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, and their peers are pulled from the past with artistry that makes them wonderfully fresh. Artistic Director Keith Womer programs concerts with an eye toward expanding our appreciation of the great composers and their times – and does so with not a little wit, as when he paired two of baroque's biggest guns in a "Bach vs. Handel Smackdown." With 17 core musicians to draw from – vocalists and instrumentalists of all stripes – La Follia is able to perform baroque music from small chamber pieces to more ambitious works.
Coming up: Herd of Harpsichords April 26 & 27 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
The string quartet in residence at the UT Butler School of Music for 16 years and an extraordinary example of musical virtuosity and ensemble work. Every performance of the Miró Quartet is stunning in its sophistication, intricacy, and intimacy, and the interaction among cellist Joshua Gindele, violist John Largess, and violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer is a model for musical unity in a small group. And they are a model for groups accepted in the school's Young Professional String Quartet Program; the Miró spends two years mentoring each ensemble in the program, which has included the Aeoulus Quartet, Cordova Quartet, invoke, and the Thalea Quartet. The Miró may be the most widely traveled ensemble in Austin's classical scene, regularly playing in prestigious music festivals and venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, but it makes space in its schedule for hometown performances at the university and with events such as the Austin Chamber Music Festival.
line upon line percussion
A chamber music group that dares to go beyond strings and woodwinds – and beyond the traditional repertoire. As line upon line percussion, Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk, and Matthew Teodori have demonstrated a remarkable commitment to banging on drums, cymbals, gongs, wood blocks, hubcaps, trash cans, triangles, bells, glasses, pipes, and anything else they can get an interesting sound out of. They're explorers in the realm of rhythm and aural texture, constantly searching for new and challenging music they can play. Thanks to their ambitious programming (six commissioned compositions, a festival devoted to music by experimental composer Iannis Xenakis), collaborative spirit (working with Fast Forward Austin, New Music Co-op, and the Austin Chamber Music Center), and some high-profile gigs (college tours, SXSW, and the Percussive Arts Society International Convention here in Austin), their drumbeats are starting to be heard around the world.
The city's godfather of new music. Through the Butler School of Music's New Music Ensemble, which he founded, he's spent four decades spotlighting works by contemporary composers, including his students and fellow faculty members. All the while, he's been an active composer himself, producing more than 140 works, everything from symphonies to opera, art songs to piano solos. And no matter what form he's working in, Welcher displays an innate understanding of the instruments he's composing for and how to evoke the fullness of their sounds, resulting in lush colors and subtle shadings that make you want to hear more. It isn't just us that thinks so; more than 60 orchestras have played Welcher's works. When he isn't composing or conducting (which he does well as well), Welcher hosts the radio series From the Butler School (Mondays on KMFA 89.5FM).
Coming up: New Music Ensemble concert May 1 at Bates Recital Hall.
A composer of gobsmacking versatility, equally at home in the realms of classical, jazz, rock, and punk, and known to swirl the forms together in powerfully propulsive, compulsively listenable music. And that music take all forms: symphonies (six to date), concertos (The Difference Engine), opera (Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance), scores for ballet (Grimm Tales, Belle Redux) and modern dance (Solo Symphony, The Geometry of Proximity), music for theatre (Requiem for Tesla, Stop Hitting Yourself), soundtracks for film (Last Flag Flying, Bernie), plus various chamber works, songs, and jazz. Reynolds emerged on the scene in 1995 with the jazz-based Golden Arm Trio – a combo he still fronts – but soon began exploring other genres and found an equally omnimusical partner-in-crime in Peter Stopschinski, with whom he founded Golden Hornet, a nonprofit focused on commissioning new music and mentoring young composers. Reynolds' openness to experimentation and collaboration with artists of all kinds is practically unparalled.
Coming up: Forklift Danceworks' Givens Swims July 19-28 at Givens Pool.
A serious composer with a prankster's soul. In rocking out with the Nineties band Brown Whörnet, Stopschinki shapeshifted through a host of alternate identities, riffing on – and goofing on – every genre and subgenre of rock imaginable. He's brought that same sensibility to his classical work, scoring a chamber piece for big band and layering Eastern sounds into Johann Sebastian's French Suites in the string quartet Hashish Dreams of the Elder Bach. His catalog includes symphonies, concertos, works for brass and percussion ensembles, choral works, scores for dance and theatre (many for the Rude Mechs), and an opera about Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips. He's currently finishing the opera Lardo Weeping, commissioned by indie opera company LOLA. Stopschinski and Graham Reynolds head Golden Hornet, a nonprofit vehicle for supporting new music and new composers. He also teaches composition at the Austin Chamber Music Center.
Coming up: The Rude Mechs' Not Every Mountain (performing his original score) April 25-28 at Motion Media Arts Center.
Few local composers have been embraced as broadly as this winner of multiple awards (Prix Lili Boulanger, the Nissim/ASCAP Orchestral Composition Prize, first prize in the Concordia Chamber Symphony's Awards to American Composers, first prize in the National Opera Association's Biennial Composition Competition). He's received commissions from community organizations of all sizes and had his music performed by groups ranging from the Austin Symphony Orchestra to the Hill Country Middle School Symphonic Band, Conspirare to the UT Chamber Singers, the Wild Basin Winds to the UT Trombone Choir. All these groups are doubtless drawn to the depth of feeling and lyricism in Grantham's work, whether it's with tender memorial choral pieces such as "We Remember Them" or frisky frolics for wind ensembles such as "Baron Cimetière's Mambo." As Butler School of Music professor of composition for more than 40 years, he's also nurtured dozens of aspiring composers.
An adventurous composer who doesn't need a concert hall for his work to be performed. Parker thrives on nontraditional spaces: open fields, parking garages, the underside of bridges. And those sites typically reflect the inventive nature of his works: a dozen trombone players on the Lake Austin shoreline, 100 tubas in a museum atrium, dozens of cars honking their horns at a drive-in. Parker will make music anywhere and with virtually anything, as proven by the compositions incorporating grackle calls and bat sounds or the one with zombie trombonists. But weird as that may sound, the works are fascinating and funny, and Parker's boldness and fervor are inspiring. In 2018, they also won him the second Tito's Prize from art collective Big Medium, which came with a $15,000 cash award and a major solo show. Parker curates the monthly Soundspace series at the Blanton Museum of Art.
Butler School of Music
A vital training ground for musicians of all kinds, composers, scholars, and teachers, run by the University of Texas. Named for Dr. Ernest and Sarah Butler after their extraordinary gift of $55 million in 2008, the school gives students opportunities to learn not only from a faculty brimming with world-class artists – the Miró Quartet, pianist Anton Nel, violinist Sandy Yamamoto, cellist Bion Tsang, and bass Nikita Storojev, to name a few – but also from performance experience through three dozen ensembles, from large and general (University Chorus, University Symphony, Longhorn Band) to small and specialized (African American Vocal Ensemble, Jazz Combos, Conjunto Ensemble, Trombone Choir). The benefits extend well beyond the student body, though; as the school's concerts and recitals are open to the public, Austinites have scores of exceptional musical offerings to choose from every year. And with the likes of line upon line percussion and composer Steve Parker moving from Butler into the community and continuing to make music, Austin's classical scene gains, too.
Coming up: Butler Opera Center's Eugene Onegin April 26-May 5 at McCullough Theatre; New Music Ensemble with guest Viet Cuong May 1 at Bates Recital Hall.
Austin Chamber Music Center
Proof that in classical music, as in life, good things come in small packages. The music favored by this organization can be played by fewer musicians than you have fingers on one hand – a string quartet, a piano trio, a flute and clarinet – and you can count on it being performed with an intimacy that pulls you in and a virtuosity that knocks you out. That's owed to the consistently fine caliber of musicians who play in ACMC's five season concerts and annual Austin Chamber Music Festival in July. That quality starts with Artistic Director Michelle Schumann, a pianist of striking sensitivity and skill who's been leading ACMC since 2006 and seeing that its programming includes not only sterling traditional classical artists but also sterling nontraditional artists such as the Bad Plus. Since ACMC was founded in 1981 to help train young musicians, education is still central to its mission, and it offers workshops, academy classes, and coaching, as well as outreach concerts in schools.
Coming up: The Melting Pot, a concert featuring the KASA Quartet, April 27 at First Unitarian Church.
Austin Classical Guitar
On one hand – say, the one on the fretboard – ACG is an organization presenting dozens of concerts every year, with an impressive roster of international artists. On the other hand (the one strumming the strings), it's an organization that's taught thousands of young Central Texans to play guitar. The educational side of ACG came largely from the vision of Executive Director Matt Hinsley, who transformed what had been a small concert presenter into a missionary force, connecting public school students, youth in the juvenile justice system, people who are visually impaired, and new mothers in challenging circumstances with an instrument they can use to make music. The curriculum ACG developed and made available online has been adopted by hundreds of teachers nationally and internationally. Lately, ACG has begun creating original works exploring timely topics – refugees' experiences, how youth view the future – through recorded interviews, poetry, and music, with scores by resident composer Joseph V. Williams II.
Coming up: Kupinski Guitar Duo April 27 at the AISD Performing Arts Center.
Austin Symphony Orchestra
The senior institution on the city's performing arts scene – it passed the century mark in 2011 – but age cannot wither ASO, nor custom stale its performance of symphonic music. Indeed, our hometown orchestra has only grown more lively in recent years, serving up heavy hitters from Mozart to Mahler with vibrancy and vigor. Credit Music Director Peter Bay, who's been wielding the baton since 1998. His enthusiasm for great scores, encyclopedic knowledge of music, and meticulous attention to performance have raised the level of musicianship among the players and forged a true ensemble. ASO doesn't slight 20th century composers; both the well-known (Copland, Prokofiev, Bernstein) and lesser known (Takemitsu, Corigliano, Higdon) have had works played, as have locals such as Donald Grantham and Dan Welcher. Along with eight major concerts a season in the Long Center's Dell Hall, ASO offers four concerts in its Pops series, a Fourth of July concert, a family Halloween concert, and numerous concerts for youth. It's even played Sixth Street, via Bach 'n' Beats, a mash-up of a string quartet and four DJs, presented at the Parish. In 2015, ASO released its first recording, featuring music by composer Edward Burlingame Hill.
Coming up: A Shakespearean Evening (with Chronicle Arts Editor Robert Faires) May 17 & 18 at Dell Hall in the Long Center.
The spot on the dial where Austin has been able to count on getting its classical fix since 1967. The independent station provides classical music 24/7, almost all of it served up by local on-air personalities and with more locally generated programs – such as the nationally syndicated Classical Guitar Alive, From the Butler School, Film Score Focus, and Classical Austin – than shows from sources outside Austin. KMFA also stays tuned into the city's live classical scene, broadcasting performances by the Austin Symphony, Austin Opera, Chorus Austin, and Austin Classical Guitar, and co-sponsoring local events, such as the New Music Mixer spotlighting Austin composers in partnership with the online arts journal Sightlines and the annual Fall Into Music instrument drive conducted with the Hispanic Alliance. The result of this local focus? More than 100,000 listeners tuning in to KMFA on a weekly basis and listener memberships at an all-time high.
Round Top Festival Institute
An astonishing complex of music-related spaces, including a magnificent 1,100-seat concert hall, tucked away in the Central Texas countryside about 70 miles southeast of Austin. Founded in 1971 by concert pianist James Dick, who envisioned an institute for the study and performance of classical music in the unlikely locale of Round Top, the institute has grown from an abandoned school building on six acres to more than 20 buildings on a 210-acre campus that hosts concerts year-round and a 6-week summer study program for nearly 100 musicians. As artistic director, Dick still supervises the summer intensive, involving orchestra rehearsals and performances, chamber music coaching and performances, master classes, and private lessons from 40 faculty members and eight conductors – most of which the public is welcome to attend. The rest of the year, the campus plays host to conferences, meetings, and retreats, among them an August-to-April concert series, the International Guitar Festival, the Theatre Forum, the Poetry Forum, and the Herbal Forum.