Lang Lang honors Sir Paul McCartney at Gershwin Award Ceremony

~posted by Rich Upton, KMFA afternoon announcer and host of Sunday Night Symphony
I just finished watching “In Performance at the White House” on PBS, wherein President Obama presented the Gershwin Award for Popular Music — the highest award for popular music — to Sir Paul McCartney, for a lifetime of achievement in that field.  McCartney and his band performed, Jerry Seinfeld did a bit, and a number of pop music luminaries performed McCartney songs — from Herbie Hancock to Elvis Costello to The Jonas Brothers (the latter a little something for the Obama daughters).
One highlight of the evening was a performance by classical pianist Lang Lang, who performed a solo piano work composed by McCartney.  I recognized the melody immediately — it first appeared on a recording of Paul McCartney demos of music created for an as-yet-unproduced animated film featuring the character of Rupert the Bear, then resurfaced in 1997 — in a much more expanded and gloriously beautiful performance for chorus and orchestra — as the finale for McCartney’s most ambitious classical work to date, “Standing Stone.”  In that context, it was assigned the title “Celebration,” which is how it was announced for Lang Lang’s performance at the White House.  Having heard only the two versions — one a home recording by McCartney alone, never intended for public release, and the other this wonderful full arrangement for orchestra and voices — I was curious to hear how this melody would translate to solo piano….
Well, duh!  Combine a master of melody like Paul McCartney with a master of the piano like Lang Lang, and how could the result be anything but gorgeous? Which is exactly what it was.  Here is a video that unfortunately picks up well into Lang Lang’s performance, but you can still see how deeply he feels the music.  He doesn’t just play the music;  he IS the music. It’s a moving performance of a lovely piece. (You can catch the entire broadcast at

Rich Upton is KMFA’s weekday afternoon announcer, and host of Sunday Night Symphony. You can hear Sunday Night Symphony on Sundays at 9pm.

Classical music’s “New Golden Age”

~posted by Jeffrey Blair, KMFA morning announcer

“Classical Music’s New Golden Age.” That’s the title of an article that was just released in the City Journal, a magazine published by the Manhattan Institute.  The article’s author, Heather MacDonald, goes to great length to point out that we live in an age where classical music is appreciated by more people than ever before.

… And I have to agree with her!  Its only been within the last century or so that conductors and musicians finally stopped “improving” the symphonies of Beethoven or the quartets of Mozart.  We get to hear great works performed by skilled musicians, and it makes no difference whether it’s something written 500 years ago or just last year.  The sense of respect that the musician has for the composer, and vice-versa, comes forth in an astounding experience for the listener.

The music is everywhere,  too.  Concert halls, convenience stores, cell phones, the music surrounds us as never before.  Technology has made it possible to enjoy a symphony while planting a garden, or listen to a piano sonata while grocery shopping.  Amazing.  Click here to read the entire article — read it and see if you don’t agree that we live in Classical Music’s New Golden Age.

Jeffrey Blair is KMFA’s weekday morning announcer, Production Engineer, and host of the weekend show, Choral Classics. Tune in Sundays at 10am and 5pm to hear Choral Classics, right here on KMFA, 89.5.

Reflections on “Austin Goes Classical”

– posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA midday announcer

“Austin Goes Classical” (June 22-29th, 2010) was billed as “Austin’s Greatest Collaborative Classical Event Ever,” and had been in the works for over two years. I’m pleased to say that the Festival did not disappoint.

The Festival was spearheaded by Dr. Matthew Hinsley, Executive Director of The Austin Classical Guitar Society. The A.C.G.S. was awarded the Guitar Foundation of America’s 2010 International Convention and Competition, and the Festival was built around that event. This was unprecedented in the G.F.A.’s history. There were 60 events in six days. All the action took place at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. There were workshops for guitarists young and old and preliminary competitions that ran in the daytime, followed by major performances in the evening.

I had to pace myself with the “headline concerts” and attended four of the six evening shows. Though I would have loved to have seen and heard all the them, at least for yours truly, like the kid in the candy store, it is possible to overdo it.

Day 1’s main event was Pepe Romero’s (rare) solo performance. KMFA was proud to broadcast this performance, and I was fortunate to have co-hosted it with Tony Morris, host of Classical Guitar Alive. Pepe Romero’s performance of an all-Spanish music program was inspired. Later in the week, we were treated to world-renown local heroes, Adam Holzman (previous G.F.A. champ) with the Miró Quartet. The word “thrilling” kept coming to mind as these masters played the music of Giuliani, Boccherini, Morel and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Adam Holzman’s beautiful sound and clean execution are always a delight, and the members of the Miró seem to have their own secret language, so it does take an exceptional musician not just to perform with them but to really be part of the conversation…amazing-edge-of-your-seat-action.

For the Saturday night concert, Pepe Romero returned, as did The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, to perform with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Peter Bay. The LAGQ performed “Interchange” by the virtuoso guitarist and composer, Sergio Assad. The shifting colors and moods of the piece were realized through the performer’s attention to subtlety and dynamics.  In the second half of the show, Pepe Romero performed the most famous guitar concerto of all-time, “The Concierto de Aranjuez,” by Joaquin Rodrigo. The performance was preceded by excerpts of a film about the composer and the piece. This was a nice touch that added poignancy to an already poignant second movement. The orchestra was on point and Pepe Romero’s performance of this work, which he has played over a thousand times, was (to my ears)  reverential.

The final night featured the International Concert Artist Competition Finals. Four guitarists vied for the top prize in what has been described as “The Wimbledon of Classical Guitar Competitions.” All the finalists are already on the world stage, but the promise of a 65-city tour and recording project is clearly a great incentive. They all played one piece in common and for the rest of their time, they had their pick of music. I was most surprised to hear the stylistic differences from one guitarist to the next. All were amazing, but in the end only one could win. The big prize went to Johannes Möller of Sweden.

Also, just before the winner was announced, the GFA entered new inductees into their Hall of Fame, among whom was Pepe Romero himself! The audience chuckled and cheered when, in his thanks, Pepe said, “I’m very glad that you didn’t wait for me to die to give me this; that is a great pleasure for me.”

Thanks to all of the musicians, arts-collaborators, sponsors, volunteers, attendees and especially, thanks to Dr. Matthew Hinsley, for his tireless efforts, organizational skills, artistry, and most of all, for his incredible vision. I hope that he’s resting somewhere now, with a cool one.

Dianne Donovan is KMFA’s midday announcer and host/producer of Classical Austin. You can listen to a new episode of Classical Austin every Wednesday at 8pm, on Classical 89.5, KMFA-FM.

A “musical message” found in Plato’s writings?

I heard an interesting article recently on NPR’s All Things Considered: a scholar has discovered a pattern while reading Plato’s writings in their original scrolled format. Apparently every 12th line discusses music. The article continues with implications of a hidden message concerning a musical relationship with math,  considered heretical at the time of its writing. It’s hard to imagine that Pythagorus was persecuted for his theories, when now they are required learning in basic geometry classes.

You can listen to the whole 4-minute article and read the transcript by clicking here.

This story includes philosophy, math, music, history, and conspiracy theories, all in one sphere…. what’s not compelling about that?? There’s even an ancient scroll.

~posted by Alison @ KMFA 🙂

In the KMFA studios: Sara Hessel interviews Michael Nyman

In conjunction with Austin Lyric Opera’s production of the chamber opera, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” Sara Hessel interviewed the composer, Michael Nyman. She produced a special program on Nyman’s life and works, called Motion and Emotion (original airdate on July 9th). In this one-hour special, Sara Hessel presented highlights from Nyman’s many film scores and concert works, as well as segments of her exclusive interview with him.

If you missed the original program, you can listen to the interview portion by clicking here.

Also, you can read Sara’s related blog post about her impressions of this sold-out performance last weekend.

Enjoy! 🙂

~posted by Alison @ KMFA  🙂

Music is in our genes…literally!

~posted by Kelsey Padgett, KMFA Development & Production  Associate

Yesterday, July 13th, I read about a new choral piece that premiered in London.

So ….? Maybe you are thinking, “new music happens every day!” Well, this new piece is something a little different – an amazing collaboration between science and art. Scientists and composers have produced a new choral work in which performers sing parts of their own genetic code.  The piece is called Allele, and it symbolizes a new way to look at genes – musically.

Follow this link for the full article from the BBC , where you can hear an excerpt from the New London Chamber Choir’s rehearsal.  🙂

“Hats off” to Austin Lyric Opera

~posted by Sara Hessel, KMFA Music Director

Can a story about a neurological condition be engaging, moving and human? Austin Lyric Opera and the Austin Chamber Music Center proved that it certainly can last weekend when they presented a sold-out run of Michael Nyman’s chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

The opera is based on a case study by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Dr. P. is a professional singer and music teacher who lately has been making strange mistakes. He asks for directions from a parking meter, thinking it’s a person. He can no longer recognize loved ones or familiar objects. He and his wife visit the neurologist Dr. S. at his clinic, and later Dr. S. visits them at home so that he can observe the patient in his own environment. Dr. S. discovers that Dr. P. cannot process visual information. He can see perfectly well, but his brain can’t make sense of what he sees. Dr. P. uses music to create order in the chaos, and at the end of the opera, Dr. S. prescribes “more music”.

All three members of the cast were marvelous singers and actors: soprano Cara Johnston brought wonderful warmth to her role as Mrs. P., and we felt her fear, rage and powerlessness in the face of her husband’s bizarre ailment right along with her. Tenor Brian Joyce was impressive in his ability to bring forth the mixture of clinical detachment, compassion, and scientific sleuthing necessary for the portrayal of Dr. S.

To my mind and ears, however, bass Matthew Treviño stole the show as Dr. P. His rich voice and embodiment of the character drew me in and didn’t let go.  In final scene, Dr. P. stands alone on stage, humming softly to himself, making sense of the world in his way. The lights dimmed gradually, and one by one, the musicians finished playing and departed, until at last only the piano remained. The music stopped, as it always must, leaving Dr. P in the dark, in every sense of the word. It was a superb moment — moving and chilling.

Pianist Michelle Schumann and her gallant band of players from the Austin Chamber Music Center did Nyman’s music proud with their nuanced performance. After the opera I left St. Martin’s Lutheran Church with Dr. S’s words ringing in my ears (with a small addendum): more music like this!

Sara Hessel is KMFA’s Music Director, as well as producer and host of Ancient Voices. Tune in on Sundays, 9am and 4pm, to enjoy Ancient Voices, right here on KMFA, 89.5.

Round Top, Texas: a Pastoral and Cultural Delight

~ posted by Renee Beale, KMFA announcer

We stumbled upon Round Top quite by accident the first few months we moved to Austin. Who knew just a few miles east of the Music Capital of the World, sits a charming diminutive Garden of Urbanity? With just 77 residents, it’s surrounded by nature’s unsparing splashes and variant hues of viridian and burnt sienna as its backdrop.  When there, I feel as though I could be standing inside the Rubens’ painting, Landscape with the Chateau Steen.

What is absolutely astounding to me is that, while Round Top may be small, it more than makes up for it with its copious appetite for culture.  Sure there are a few shops and art galleries to enjoy, the Henkel Square Museum Village, Royers Round Top Café, the Stone Cellar and plenty of antiques, but this isn’t the reason we keep going back.  We go there for the idyllic Elizabethan playhouse experience at Shakespeare in the park in Winedale and Festival Hill.  The Shakespeare productions are performed in a barn and the surroundings are magnificent.  The Shakespeare program is part of the UT English Department and the students live there on the grounds at Winedale for about six weeks during the rehearsals and performance schedule.

This brings me to Festival Hill.  It’s a beautiful structure that rivals anything I’ve seen.  It’s hard to imagine this architectural masterpiece was just recently finished in 1997.  The craftsmanship of this commanding design belies its date of construction. There are no words for the beauty of the theatre.  Every time we take a drive to Round Top, we make a point to stop at Festival Hill, if nothing more than to gawk. This Saturday, July 3rd was no exception.  We were able to catch a rehearsal of that night’s performance by the young musicians making up the Festival Hill Music Festival.

As I stood there watching these young performers, I wondered if they realized just how stunning the institute’s surroundings are, and if they fully grasp the awe-inspiring radiance of the concert hall?  I’m amazed each time I enter the concert hall, admiring its handcrafted woodwork, hardwood flooring, and exclusively designed custom seating.  The institute brings talented young artists from around the world along with accomplished faculty and conductors, and the results have been stunning.  The Round Top Festival Institute alumni perform in symphony orchestras, teach at conservatories and universities, and collaborate with other distinguished musicians on six continents.  All happening right in our very own back yard!

“Keep it alive.  Introduce a child to the arts.”

~ posted by Renee Beal, KMFA announcer