From where I sit, “Austin Camerata” translates into “unadulterated beauty.”
At least it did last night when the Austin chamber orchestra played the Rollins StudioTheatre at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
But first, an historical note: Debra and Kevin Rollins, whose gift made the gray box theater possible, adored chamber music. And yet, during the first 10 years of the Long Center, not much of the genre has been heard in their Studio Theatre.
For a concert called “Reinventions,” the room sounded great! And there was enough space onstage to accommodate Dorothy O’Shea Overbey‘s dancers, who performed with the musicians during the final number.
Back to the music: Like other chamber orchestras, the University of Texas-associated string group — led offstage but not onstage by cellist Daniel Kopp — expands on the collaborative dynamics of a string quartet. Their measured romp through Edvard Grieg‘s “Holberg Suite” was precise, proportional and over way too soon.
All else melted away when guest violinist Chee-Yun arrived downstage, her red gown gown splashed against the orchestra’s workaday blacks, her performance lighted to their near darkness. And for good reason, because she could pull all those wild sounds from her instrument for Astor Piazzolla‘s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” These four tangos, composed independently but rearranged to match Vivaldi‘s “Four Seasons,” kept the near-full house on the edge of their seats.
For the final piece, Dmitri Shostakovich’s somber and powerful Symphony for Strings, the musicians formed an arc around an open space for Overbey and her dancers. All of them are choreographers as well, so in sense, it was a collaborative effort not unlike the orchestra’s. Dedicated to the victims of fascism and war, the music is associated with the fire-bombing of Dresden and also could be seen as anti-Soviet. (A lot is read into Shostakovich.)
Mesmerizing — although at times crowded and unfinished due to a very short rehearsal period — the dark dance held together by a red scarf well matched the dark music. Visually, it was most arresting when musicians entered the dancers’ zone.
Give us more chamber music at the Rollins and more smart, collaborative work like “Reinventions.”
It’s time. The Austin Critics Table Awards nominations came out this morning.
The gathered minds invented new categories, both under the heading of Theater: Periphery Company, recognizing the theatrical body of work by companies outside of Austin proper, and Improvised Production, recognizing mainstage projects by area improv troupes.
That puts the number of official categories this year at 29 (7 theater, 5 design, 5 dance, 6 classical music, 6 visual arts). Critics also promise at least 11 special citations.
You already know which Broadway musicals are coming to Austin’s Bass Concert Hall next season — yes, including “Hamilton” — but unless you attended the onstage party last night, you don’t know about the rest of the Texas Performing Arts season.
The University of Texas presenting group’s director, Kathy Panoff, who reports that subscriptions for the Broadway in Austin series are unsurprisingly strong, cheerfully introduced the dance, classical, world and other Essential Series selections to several dozen fans. Then she introduced Stephanie Rothenberg, a member of the Broadway cast of “Anastasia,” who sang two numbers from the show. Reminder: Among the name producers for this stage version of the animated movie are local backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff.
(I wondered if the Austin group flew in talented Rothenberg and indeed they had, just for two songs. She’s a “swing” member of the New York cast, which means she can take over several parts, including the title role, but also could fly away for the night.)
Without any further delay …
2018-2019 Texas Performing Arts Season
Sept. 12: Voca People. An a cappella group from Israel completely reconfigures popular hits.
Sept. 14: Reduced Shakespeare Company. The original creators of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)” bring back the hilarious work that made them famous.
Sept. 21: Fred Hersch Trio. Ten-time Grammy nominated pianist brings the real jazz deal.
Sept. 28: Taylor Mac. Extravagant drag performer messes with the audiences during “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged).”
Oct. 5: Yekwon Sunwoo. UT likes to book the top talent from the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and this is the 2017 winner.
Oct. 18: Ragamala Dance Company. It’s hard to believe this is the first major Indian dance troupe to play Bass, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Panoff said. They’ll perform “Written in Water.”
Nov. 1: “Blackstar: An Orchestral Tribute to David Bowie.” Lots of excitement about this take on the great man.
Nov. 8: Jordi Savall. Early music promoter returns to Austin, this time with a global vision in “The Routes of Slavery.”
Nov. 9: Pavel Urkiza and Congri Ensemble. The Cuban guitarist and composer interprets classic Cuban songs in “The Root of the Root.”
Nov. 13: Circa. Australian contemporary circus troupe presents “Humans.”
Nov. 14-Dec. 2. “The Merchant of Venice.” There’s usually one or two selections from UT’s department of theater and dance in the bill; this season it’s a take on Shakespeare.
Nov. 16: “Private Peaceful.” Verdant Productions and Pemberley produced this staging of Michael Morpurgo’s book on World War I, directed and adapted for the stage by Simon Reade.
Jan. 30: Michelle Dorrance Dance. Trust UT to bring in the best of the dance world; this tap troupe introduces “ETM: Double Down.”
Feb. 5: Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. This sliver of the storied orchestra was founded in 1988.
Feb. 8: “Songs of Freedom.” Drummer Ulysses Owns, Jr. leads a group interpreting Joni Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone as part of the center’s series on protest arts.
March 27: “A Thousand Thoughts.” The Kronos Quartet team with Oscar-nominaed filmmaker Sam Green for this live documentary.
April 11: “Caravan: A Revolution on the Road.” A collaboration between Terence Blanchard E-Collective and Rennie Harris Puremovement Dance Company with projections and installations by Andrew Scott.
April 13: UT Jazz Orchestra with Joe Lovano. American saxophonist joins the college ensemble as part of the Butler School of Music’s Longhorn Jazz Festival.
April 11: Trey McLaughlin and Sounds of Zamar. They saved the blessing for last with this Georgia-based gospel group.
Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.
What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Daniel Woodroffe (lead), Kim Harding, Francisco Rosales, Ethan Primm and Kevin Sullivan.
UPDATE: Credits for “Night Garden” appeared incorrectly in a previous version of this post.
The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.
Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:
Instead, General Director and CEO Annie Burridge has appointed Tim Myers, most recently artistic and music director of North CarolinaOpera,as the Austin outfit’s artistic advisor.
Myers, who has overseen world premieres at top spots such as Houston Grand Opera, will also conduct in Austin the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” based on the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël,” which reimagines the famous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Hometown hero Kevin Puts wrote the music.
Austin Opera has drafted two other conductors to lead the more traditional operas. Steven White, whose credits span the North American continent, will take over the baton for “La Traviata,” which concludes this season, and “Otello” next season. Peter Bay, music director for the Austin Symphony, comes to the rescue next season for “La Bohème.”
A fifth opera, “Soldier Songs,” by David T. Little, will mix video, rock, opera and theater to tell the stories of veterans of five wars as part of the nontraditional Opera ATX efforts, first tried at the Paramount Theatre.
“We are honored to have Timothy, Steven, and Peter contribute their extraordinary talent to our company,” says Burridge. “In the coming months we will share our plans to select our next permanent artistic leader, and we look forward to engaging our audience and musicians in that process.”
Margo Sawyer, the Elgin-based artist whose art intersects sculpture and architecture, has won a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship.
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation recently announced 173 fellowships (including two joint fellowships) in arts and sciences for 2018. This honor comes with up to $45,000 to support one of the winners’ future projects.
“The Guggenheim Fellowship would allow me time and resources to cultivate designs of spaces transcendent,” Sawyer says. “Public places that foster contemplation.”
Sawyer, 59, has been on the University of Texas art faculty for 30 years. For decades, she has transformed old brick structures in Elgin into multi-use arts spaces.
She is the niece of Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and her father was one of the first African-Americans to serve in the U.S. diplomatic corps in the 1950s. He met her British mother in Accra, Ghana. Her grandfather founded the NAACP in Topeka, Kan. and helped initiate the legal action that became Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation.
Sawyer grew up the U.S., U.K. and Cameroon. In 1973, her mother took her to Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.
“I was about 15 and it was an experience that made me the sculptor I am today,” Sawyer says. “We were the first and only 17 tourists allowed in the country. I spent 30 minutes alone in Tutankhamun’s tomb — an obsession as with many people ever since. The experience at Abu Simbel, where the monuments are carved into the living rock, a union of sculpture, architecture and painting united, has been my modus operandi all my life.”
She is currently working on a glass colored spiral immersive sculpture for the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo.
“The viewer will be enveloped in a pool of color,” Sawyer says. “I just completed windows for a private chapel and also I’m working on a commission for the University of Houston all with hand-painted glass being made with Franz Mayer of Munich, who did the exquisite windows for Ellsworth Kelly‘s ‘Austin.”’
Sawyer realizes this is a big turning point during a long career of many achievements, including many works placed in private homes, museum collections and public spaces, along with wide recognition in the Austin arts community, including the Austin Critics Table designation as 2015 Artist of the Year.
“This is an amazing moment for me,” she says. “I have been making sculpture since I was 14 years old, and am honored that I have been a sculptor throughout my life. This year feels transformative and the recognition is monumental, a testament to the personal commitment and belief in the vision I have created.”
At some point, South by Southwest will encompass all human activity.
Austin’s vast March spree started with music in the 1980s, then added movies and technology, before taking on education, philanthropy, the environment and allied fields.
Art came next.
Today, SXSW announced six art projects for its second annual program scheduled for the conference and festivals March 9-18, 2018. Combined with the UNESCO Media Arts Exhibition at SXSW, the installations are meant to expand the discussion on visual and digital and media arts during the confab.
The 2017 Longhorns football team seems to be the real deal. Its three losses were close and two of those were against highly ranked teams. The next home game is Oct. 21 against Oklahoma State University. At times at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, all eyes will be on the jumbotron, which will run three Roy Spence-inspired promos for three top cultural attractions on the University of Texas campus.
Using UT’s patented “What Starts Here Changes the World” slogan, the short videos tout the wonders of the Blanton Museum of Art,Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library.
“UT is renowned for its academics, athletics and vibrant pace of life,” Spence, cofounder of GSD&M creative agency, says. “We also wanted to shine a light on the rich culture that makes UT so extraordinary: its arts and their historical positive impact on society. Within walking distance to the football stadium, UT’s cultural and history-making treasures are a special part of the campus and its legacy. This was an opportunity to showcase those in a big way to both students on campus and nationally to our football fans.”
In addition to running on the jumbotron prompts, the Longhorn Network will air the ads. I hope the creators in coming years expand the program to include the Briscoe Center for American History, Texas Performing Arts, Benson Latin American Collection and other UT easily accessible to the general public.
The Rude Mechshave lined up long residencies at two of the nation’s biggest and best regional theaters, Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Conn. and Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn.
Adored in Austin and looking for a new performance home base here, the 22-year-old group isactually among the few American companies to make much of their art away from home. (Fun fact: the Rudes now rehearse in the American-Statesman building.)
Their presence abroad really took off with their 1999 hit “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century.” Since then, theaters, universities and art centers have clamored to be a part of their heady fun.
At Yale, the Rudes will present the world premiere of “Field Guide,” a fast and furious take on Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamozov.” The work, commissioned by Yale Rep, runs Jan. 26–Feb. 17, 2018.
In July 2018, the Rudes will further develop “Not Every Mountain,” written by Kirk Lynn and directed by Thomas Graves with music by Peter Stopschinski,at the three-venue Guthrie Theater. According to the theater’s spokesman, it is “a beguiling meditation on change and permanence.”
We recently visited the Guthrie for the first time since it moved into its new-ish digs on the Mississippi River. Pretty spectacular if hulking space with a loyal audience and, no small thing, the best pre-show, in-theater dining we’ve ever experienced.