Austin Chamber Music Fest’s free concerts

The Austin Chamber Festival invariably serves a pleasant cocktail esteemed traditional ensembles mixed with boundary-changing experiments. This year’s fest for example features alt classical rockers Mother Falcon as well as American String Quartet and cello rock band Break of Reality.

Also regularly on the fest roster are several free concerts. Here’s our picks:

Austin composer and pianist Russell Reed started this now-popular annual concert to celebrate the contributions of gay and lesbian composers and musicians.

Reed and his collaborators uncover chamber music gems that are too infrequently performed.

This year the Capital City Men’s Chorus is joined by an ensemble including. Turner Partain, violin; Nora Karakousoglou, cello; Bryan Kennard, flute; Adam Bedell, percussion; Jim James, piano; and Reed on piano.

• “Beat the Rush” Blanton Concert with Cordova Quartet, 5:30 p.m. July 16. Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. MLK Jr. Blvd.

Cordova Quartet. Photo by Nathan Russell.
Cordova Quartet. Photo by Nathan Russell.

Started at Rice University, the Cordova Quartet is now the Young Professional String Quartet in Residence at the University of Texas.

They’ll play a program that will include William Grant Still’s Danzas de Panama, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major and Roberto Sierra’s Mambo.

Quilt exhibit celebrates African American history, culture

Renee Allen, “Juneteenth.” (Cotton fabric, cotton thread, acrylic paint, colored pencil)

Featuring artists from the Women of Color Quilters Network, the exhibit “And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations” exhibit charts four centuries of African American history with 69 handcrafted contemporary story quilts.

The show opens Friday — the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth Emancipation Day — at the Bullock Museum.

Preview a few quilts from the exhibit in this slide show.

Arranged in chronological order, the quilts visually tell the stories of event including the first enslaved Africans brought over by Dutch traders in 1619, the 1839 slave revolt on the Spanish ship La Amistad, the 1865 Juneteenth Emancipation Day in Texas and the Civil Rights Movement.

Key figures in culture are honored too such as actress Hattie McDaniel — the first African American actor to win an Academy Award — and poet Langston Hughes.


Also opening Friday at the Bullock is “Reflections: African American Life from the Myrna Colley-Lee Collection.”

Selected from the private art collection of Myrna Colley-Lee — one of the foremost costume designers in the Black Theatre Movement — comes a gathering of mostly figurative and representational art that reflects the African American experience by noted modern and contemporary artists including Romare Bearden, James Van Der Zee, Elizabeth Catlett and Bettye Saar.

Both exhibits continue through Aug. 30.
Museum hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Bullock Museum, 1900 N. Congress Ave.
Admission: $8-$12

Free admission to Umlauf Sculpture Garden all summer

Damian Priour’s “Pointed Sphere”

Leveraging the monies contributed through the annual Amplify Austin fund drive, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum is offering free admission all summer long.

And new to verdant grounds is “Pointed Sphere” (2005), a 30” diameter limestone and glass orb by the late Texas artist Damian Priour (1949-2011).

“Pointed Sphere” is  now permanently installed at the sculpture garden.

And to celebrate the arrival of “Pointed Sphere,” there’s a public reception from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 21.

The Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, 605 Robert E. Lee Road, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.


Impressionism exhibit opens at the Blanton Museum

Oller_RoyalPalm (2)Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller (1833–1917) spent his life going back and forth between the tiny art community of his hometown San Juan and the cultural capitals of Europe.

Ambitious, Oller befriend the likes of artistic geniuses of the time including Monet, Cézanne and Pissaro as well as burnished his own painterly abilities which he then brought back to Puerto Rico.

Now comes the traveling exhibit “Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World.”

Organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the exhibit offers historical, geographic, and cultural context for Oller’s work alongside paintings by 19th-century masters Cézanne, Monet, Winslow Homer, Camille Pissarro and others.

And the Blanton’s presentation also includes a small selection of works by contemporaneous Texas artists working on both sides of the Atlantic

“Impressionism and the Caribbean” opens June 14 and continues through Sept. 6

Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Theater review: Teatro Vivo’s “El Nogalar”

Mexican-born Chicago-based playwright Tanya leverages a literary classic to spotlight the wrenching effects of Mexico’s drug wars.

Teatro Vivo's "El Nogalar." Photo by Errich Petersen.
Teatro Vivo’s “El Nogalar.” Photo by Errich Petersen.

“El Nogalar”  (“The Pecan Orchard”)  is her loose adaptation of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” and Austin’s Teatro Vivo gives the 2011 play its Austin debut at the Mexican-American Cultural Center in a production directed by Rudy Ramirez running through June 20.

Instead of Chekhov’s debt-ridden Russian aristocrat returning from Paris to reconcile with her family’s soon-to-be-repossessed estate, Saracho’s play finds the well-heeled Maite (Yesenia Grace Herrington) returning to her ancestral estate in Northeastern Mexico with her Americanized youngest daughter Anita (Gricelda Silva).

Gone for years, Maite is clueless about what her eldest daughter Valeria (Olivia Jimenez) has had to deal with since remaining in Mexico: Namely, the increasing pressure from drug cartels who want the rural property for their territory, with or without the family’s consent.

Maite and Anita have been living  the high life in the United States, while Valeria has watched the estate fall into debt as the narco violence get ever closer.

Complicating the narrative, Valeria childhood friend Lopez (Jesus Valles-Morales) is now a henchman for the cartel edging the family off its land. Lopez is a beneficiary of the new narco class  — a once lower-class boy done good as a man now well-paid and made powerful by the cartel. Indeed Lopez’s backstory, though not expanded, offers the most trenchant narrative in the play.

“El Nogalar” debuted in 2011 in Chicago and has been staged in New York and Los Angeles. Saracho — who currently writes for HBO’s “Looking” and “Girls” — saw her play “Mala Hierba” premiered Off-Broadway last year.

While it’s topical and topically trenchant, “El Nogalar” remains an imperfect play. Despite Ramirez’s enthusiastic direction and the cast’s exuberant energy, nuance and depth loses out to exposition.

Nevertheless, “El Nogalar” tells an important story.

 “El Nogalar” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 20. Tickets $14-$20 (Thursdays pay-what-you-wish). Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center, 600 River St.

Theater review: Austin Shakepeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)


Old time country music twangs and a cool spring breeze blows across the Zilker hillside as the moon hangs low on the horizon. Our unseasonably pleasant spring weather this year is a lovely start to the Zilker Hillside Theater season and a compelling reason to bring out the picnic blankets and coolers for Austin Shakespeare’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” running through May 24. 11182286_10153799668523222_7020810462981748141_n

One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, “Taming” has inspired plenty of re-tellings over the years: from “Kiss Me Kate” to “10 Things I Hate About You,” we’ve watched countless men conspire to marry off a shrewish elder sister so that others may woo her demure younger sibling.

For those able to overlook the overt sexism and problematic currents of domestic violence in the play, this production is an entertaining foray into romantic comedy silliness.

In keeping with Austin Shakespeare’s tradition of late, director Anne Ciccolella has set the production far away in time and space from Shakespeare’s original imagining. Rather than the streets of Padua, characters ramble through the Texas hill country back in the 1890s, and to set the scene, the cast treats audiences to a rousing rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” at the top of the show.

Admittedly, it takes a while for our ears to get used to hearing “Austin” and “Fredericksburg” inserted into the verse, but the southern setting allows for some dramatic license that’ll get laughs.

Another feather in the production’s cap is the talented Marc Pouhé playing the romantic lead (Petruchio). Pouhé commands attention in his ankle length black duster and cowboy hat, which turns out to be a surprisingly fitting ensemble for the proud and blustery suitor.

With its thick layers of silliness, the production makes for a cute evening.

Bianca (Sara Cormier) walks onstage licking a lollypop the size of her head and the rodeo-style wrestling with her elder sister Kate (Gwedolyn Kelso) ends up remarkably well supported by the text. Tony Salinas also stands out for his clowning as Grumio, Petruchio’s hapless servant.

The quirky setting brings Texas charm to the Bard’s story at some inevitable cost to textual integrity. So while the production’s liberties will likely make Shakespeare purists cringe, the familiarity of the setting allows for some extra-textual fun that more laid-back audiences will certainly appreciate.

“The Taming of the Shrew” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through May 24 at Zilker Hillside Theatre.

Music for puppets: Listen and download for free

Trouble Puppet "The Wars of Heaven." Photo by Steve Rogers Photography.
Trouble Puppet’s “The Wars of Heaven.” Photo by Steve Rogers Photography.

Trouble Puppet Theater Company’s newest production “The Wars of Heaven, Part 1,” opens Thursday at Salvage Vanguard for a run that continues through May 17.

Told through tabletop and shadow puppetry, it’s the first of a trilogy about the eternal battles of good and evil, angels vs. demons.

Trouble Puppet again enlisted the creative talents of composer Justin Sherburn to write an original score.

And Sherburn in turn enlisted alt classical choral conductor Brent Baldwin who leads the outstanding and always experiment Convergence Vocal Ensemble in the haunting and ethereal score.

Featured are Cameron Beauchamp (bass), Laura Mercardo-Wright (mezzo-soprano), and Meredith Ruduski (soprano) along with cellist Sara Nelson.

Sherburn’s made the CD of his score available for online listening and free downloading at his Montopolis music label:

Justin Sherburn. Photo by Matthew Johnson.
Justin Sherburn. Photo by Matthew Johnson.

And while you’re on the Montopolis site, be sure to give a listen to Sherburn’s other music for Trouble Puppet, including his “Music for Puppets,” a recent compilation of the music he’s written for the celebrated troupe.

“Music for Puppets” is also graciously available for free download.


Free live music! Austin Classical Guitar concerts in May

Austin Classical Guitar once again teams up with Austin Public Libraries to present a series of free concert during May.

Thomas Echols
Thomas Echols

Concerts are at 2 p.m. each Sunday in May at the Faulk Central Library, 801 Guadalupe St.

For more info,

Thomas Echols
2 p.m. May 3

With a diverse repertoire, Austin guitarist Thomas Echols will play music ranging from Rodrigo to Takemitsu to Monk.

UT Guitar Quartet
2 p.m. May 10

The quartet  of Thales Smith, Tyler Rhodes, Kyle Comer and Carlos Martinez just won the prestigious UT System Regents’ Outstanding Student Award in Arts and Humanities.

Nicolas Emilfork
2 p.m. May 17

Chilean guitarist and UT doctoral student Nicolas Emilfork is an impressive and expressive performer.

ACG Community Guitarists
2 p.m. May 31

Serious classical guitarists in Austin play together in this ensemble.

It’s baa-aack! The “Intergalactic Nemesis” returns, again

The “Integalactic Nemesis” — the Austin-made show that’s morphed into a nationally-traveling multi-part juggernaut all its own — will return April 10-12.

"The Intergalactic Nemesis" at New York's Victory Theatre
“The Intergalactic Nemesis” at New York’s Victory Theatre

You can get a total immersion of all things Planet Zygon when the entire “Intergalactic Nemesis Trilogy” plays at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

What began in 1996 as a staged science-fiction serial modeled after 1930s radio shows by a handful of indie theater folks led by Jason Neulander has evolved into a very much for-profit entertainment franchise, with spin-off comic books, CDs, podcasts and other merch as well as multiple digital products.

With a touring schedule that keeps the show on the road seemingly non-stop. “Intergalactic Nemesis” might just be Austin’s version of the “Blue Man Group” phenom — a show created with as alt performance that nevertheless becomes a hit within the mainstream

Ballet Austin announces 2015-16

Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills and composer Graham Reynolds will continue their longstanding artistic collaboration when the pair team again next season for “The Graham Reynolds Project.”

The showcase of short ballets will reprise two previous Mills/Reynolds collaborations — “Bounce” and “Though the Earth Gives Way” — and premiere a new one. “The Graham Reynolds Project” will be March 25-27, 2016 at the Long Center.

Ballet Austin's "Carbon53." Photo by Tony Spielberg.
Ballet Austin’s “Carbon53.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Mills made the announcement at a reception Tuesday night when he unveiled Ballet Austin’s 2015-16 season.

Mills will also premiere a new yet to be titled short ballet as part of the “Director’s Choice” program of mixed repertoire next February that includes Mills’ riveting, edgy “Carbon53” and “Stream” by innovative Swedish choreographer and filmmaker Pontus Lidberg.

Ballet Austin will remount its previous productions of “Hamlet” — this time with live accompaniment by Austin Symphony Orchestra playing the Philip Glass score — as well as “Cinderella” and “The Nutcracker.”

The Ballet Austin 2015-16 season:

“Hamlet,” Sept. 4-6

“The Nutcracker,” Dec. 5-23

“Director’s Choice,” Feb. 12-14

“The Graham Reynolds Project,” April 1-3

“Cinderella,” May 6-8

For more information see