“The Sounding Joy” of a Warm Hug!

~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA-FM announcer

[Dianne Donovan had the honor of introducing Texas Choral Consort’s Concert, Sounding Joy — Navidad Nuestra, last Saturday,  December 1st. It was directed by Brent Baldwin, with soloists: tenor Soon-Chan Kwon, and soprano Kirsten Watson.]

Texas Choral Consort

Texas Choral Consort’s Christmas tradition — “The Sounding Joy”

TCC’s annual holiday concert felt like a warm hug to *this* listener. We have so many wonderful choral groups in Austin, but TCC is close to my heart because they feature an un-auditioned chorus of folks who just want to sing great music. That doesn’t mean that Artistic Director, Brent Baldwin selects the “greatest hits” that many of us have already sung in choir, quite to the contrary…  In fact, the centerpiece, Navid Nuestra, by Ariel Ramírez, was relatively new, having been written in 1964.  Add to that, two world-premieres by Austin-based composers, Donald Grantham and Russell Reed, and this was a concert wherein the audience would lean in, so as not to miss a thing.

TCC's Artistic Director, Brent Baldwin, and featured composer Donald Grantham

TCC’s Artistic Director, Brent Baldwin, and featured composer Donald Grantham

Reed’s La Noche Oscura contained gorgeously haunting harmonies that would be a challenge for most choruses. TCC did a fine job of presenting the work. Grantham’s beautiful setting of Maria Walks Amid the Thorn was a feast for the ears. In Navida Nuestra, the chorus was joined by the fabulous tenor-about-town, Soon-Chan Kwon. I have promised to add this piece to my personal Christmas playlist.

Dianne Donovan, Brent Baldwin, and tenor soloist Soon-Chan Kwon

Dianne Donovan, Brent Baldwin, and tenor soloist Soon-Chan Kwon

TCC did perform some chestnuts (roasting on an open fire) of Christmas Carols, at which time Brent Baldwin asked the audience to sing along. These were place every so often within the concert program, which helped to give the whole program (lasting about an hour) a beautiful flow.

On a warm winter’s night, it really was a Sounding Joy and a warm hug.

Here are some brief video excerpts from a few of the pieces we enjoyed:

The audience sings along with “Angels We Have Heard on High”

A haunting excerpt from “La Noche Oscura”

This part is from “Maria Walks Amid the Thorn,” with Kirsten Watson soloing:

And a short glimpse of  guest tenor Soon-Chan Kwon in “Navidad Nuestra”

     ~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA announcer and producer of Classical Austin

Sara Hessel celebrates 10 years of “Ancient Voices”

This year marks the 10th anniversary that Sara Hessel has been hosting/producing KMFA’s program, Ancient Voices. In honor of this landmark event,  we’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of KMFA’s informative and entertaining radio program with a LIVE performance of the show,  with musical performances by La Follia Austin Baroque, and of course with Sara Hessel hosting. The concert will feature exotic instruments of the Baroque, including the cornetto, sackbut, and fagotto. Sara will not only introduce the music, but interview the players. This will be recorded for future airing on Ancient Voices. The venue is the First Presbytarian Church in Northwest Austin, at 8pm. For more info, visit the La Follia website:  www.lafollia.org

I got a sneak preview at her introductory speech for the event, and I thought it would be fun to share this glance down memory lane:

The date is Friday, May 3rd, 2002:  A nervous, newly minted radio producer sat next to the speaker as Ancient Voices came on KMFA, 89.5 FM, and my fledgling hit the airwaves. The first show was called A British Banquet, and had Sarum chant on it, as well as pieces from the Eton Choirbook (and probably some Purcell!). I considered making the first show about my favorite composer, but decided that would be gauche. Besides, the anniversary of his death would be coming up the next week, so I waited somewhat patiently until then.

I had only been a part-time host at KMFA for a short time when the Program Director contacted me to ask if I would be interested in taking over the early music show. I didn’t hesitate long before saying yes! Hearing the Hilliard Ensemble sing Pérotin in Music History class was all it took for me to declare my love for early music. Oddly enough, those 12th century sounds came across to me as something entirely new and utterly fresh, and today medieval masses, motets, and courtly love songs remain some of my favorite repertoire.

When I told my Mom about becoming the new host of Ancient Voices, a weekly program, her question was “Won’t you run out of ideas?” and I enthusiastically declared that would never happen. For once, that did not turn out to be the bravado of the uninitiated! For one thing, I have about seven bountiful centuries of music from which to choose! Holidays, composer anniversaries, and new releases have saved me more than once when I was (temporarily!) at a loss for a program idea. But most of the time, one show builds from another. While researching one composer, I come across another, and tuck that idea away.

Another fun perk of producing an early music program is the opportunity to interview performers. Early music singers and instrumentalists are a pretty friendly bunch, and even top-tier performers have always granted my requests to interview them very graciously. From a purely personal standpoint, one of my favorites is the interview I conducted with Gustav Leonhardt in 2007. I was never so nervous to interview anyone in my life, mostly because of his status as an early music legend, not to mention one of my favorite organists. It turned out to be the shortest interview of my career, since Mr. Leonhardt was not altogether chatty, but he was an utter gentleman, and answered my questions with grace and a sense of humor.

I’m thankful every day for our thriving early music community here in Austin, especially for the singers and players who take notes and words on a page, add creative effort, knowledge, and passion, and create magic. Getting to work with our local groups and being a small part of the process that allows the voices of the past to be heard again inspires me every day. And I thank YOU, dear listeners, for allowing me to bring early music into your modern lives each week.

~ written by Sara Hessel, KMFA Music Director and Host/Producer of Ancient Voices

More about Sara Hessel:


Michigan native Sara Hessel earned her master’s degree in historical musicology from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1999.  She has been employed as Music Director of KMFA, Classical 89.5 in Austin, Texas since 2005. As producer and host of KMFA’s Ancient Voices, she has interviewed numerous early music superstars, including Dame Emma Kirkby, Ton Koopman, Gustav Leonhardt, Jordi Savall and Anonymous 4. Ancient Voices was named a Critics Pick in the Austin Chronicle’s ‘Best of Austin’ issue in 2010. In 2011, she received a Gracie Award® from the Alliance for Women in Media for her program Michael Nyman: Motion and Emotion.

A little Thanksgiving preview


Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite days to tune in to our local classical music station…  KMFA provides a wonderful backdrop for this festive holiday, whether it’s cooking in the kitchen or gathering friends and relatives ’round the dinner table.

In addition to programming lots of old favorites, like Shall We Gather at the River and We Gather Together,  Dvorak’s American String Quartet, and Morton Gould’s Spirituals for Strings, you can expect little musical surprises sprinkled here and there throughout the day.

They’ll also be airing a traditional favorite, Giving Thanks with host John Birge, at 7pm on Wednesday and noon on Thursday (click the Play button to hear the short promo):

And if you’re an early riser, we’ll be offering a holiday program at 6am on Thursday, called Thanksgiving with Cantus:

Let KMFA provide the musical backdrop to whatever your Thanksgiving Day holds in store.

Looking for a fugue good men: sneak preview of “A Late Quartet”

Yesterday evening, a few of us attended a sneak preview of the movie A Late Quartet at the Arbor Cinema.

Here’s the trailer:

The wonderful cast (and the easy assumption of a stellar film score) make it a first choice for any film fan who eschews non-stop CGI effects for more realistic drama and comedy. The plot centers around a world-class string quartet that has been together for 25 years, and reveals their personal strengths and tribulations, both individually and as a familial team. Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Imogen Poots are the primary actors.

Classical musicians will feel right at home with this plot vehicle as it honors the depth and skill of mastering this fine art, and non-musicians will respect classical music professionals more by having watched this film. But any movie-goer will enjoy the layers of character, the implications of choice, and the perpetual human struggles that are portrayed with such insight. Classical music is wonderfully symbolic of this balance of passion and control.

The fictional Fugue Quartet takes the stage

There was one surreal cinematic effect that occurred at the beginning and at the end of the film: the scene of the quartet performing onstage was filmed from the center of the audience row of the concert hall, and remained static in such a way that it looked like it really was a concert we were attending, with a life-sized cast walking onstage to take their seats (see photo above).

I hope you get a chance to see this fascinating movie during its limited run in Austin. You can see A Late Quartet at the Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills, beginning Friday, Nov. 16th.

McCallum Fine Arts Orchestra’s annual “movie in the park” event

~Guest blogger: Phil Pollack, KMFA Technical Operations Manager

Last Saturday evening I was treated to nearly home-delivered entertainment! The McCallum Fine Arts Academy Orchestra took over a section of my neighborhood’s lake park and provided over an hour of movie music complete with video montages on a giant inflatable outdoor movie screen.  A recent McCallum student arranged the musical selections and a current student from the Media Technologies Department created the movie montages, making the whole affair student-powered, if you don’t count the orchestra director/conductor!

This was my second time to attend a Movie Music in the Park event, and this one was especially enjoyable due to its Halloween theme. There were a number of film score classics played by the orchestra, but I particularly loved the selections from Psycho and Ghostbusters, given the proximity to Halloween.  Here is one example of a piece from Titanic (you can’t really see the musicians, but note the lights on the music stands, and the glow-in-the-dark armbands and necklaces!):

After the orchestra wrapped its performance, the Alamo Drafthouse treated the audience to a screening of Ghostbusters on the aforementioned giant outdoor movie screen. With great weather and an enthusiastic audience it was an all-around success. I sincerely hope this tradition continues in years to come!

Meeting the 5 Browns in Austin, Texas

Guest blogger: Jules Brandon, KMFA announcer and host of  Pianoforte, along with Sarah Addison, producer and creator of  Pianoforte

On Wednesday the Five Browns arrived in Austin and their first stop was the Steinway Gallery on North Research Blvd. I had the pleasure of meeting them there and being part of the reception!

They played a few pieces and then answered some great questions from their young fans. About a hundred people attended the reception, including many young, aspiring pianists who wanted to know everything about the Juilliard-trained siblings:  How many hours do you practice? Did you always had private coaching? How many performances have you played in total? Do you still get nervous on stage?

Deondra, Melody, Ryan and Gregory were happy to answer every single one and stuck around afterwards to sign autographs and talk one-on-one.

The 5 Browns at the Steinway Gallery reception, along with Jules Brandon (far left) and Matthew Bird (far right)

Like Vladimir Ashkenazy and Alicia de Larrocha, The Five Browns are Steinway Artists. Each personally owns and has chosen to perform on the Steinway piano exclusively. While on tour, they travel with their own Steinways, which local tuners in each concert city keep tuned for them. As you can imagine, transporting five gorgeous Steinways can pose some challenges, especially when traveling to places like Asia, but they’ve figured out how to make it work.

It was so nice to meet such genuinely charming and talented young artists. Special thanks go out to Matthew Bird at the Steinway Gallery for hosting this reception, and for making it possible for their fans, young and old, to meet them in person.  ~Jules

At the Long Center, before the performance: awaiting 5 Browns are 5 Steinway pianos

Guest blogger: Sarah Addison, producer and creator of Pianoforte

Last night I had the great pleasure of seeing the Five Browns perform at the Long Center! They were super cute and nice when I met them backstage, waiting for Jules Brandon to introduce them at their performance. When they came out on stage, the first thing they played was an arrangement of Mozart’s Turkish Rondo for 5 pianos. They all looked like they were really having a good time, smiling and laughing as they were playing the piece.

The most memorable performance of the evening (for me) had to be when they played the first half of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It was incredible! All of it was performed from memory, which is amazingly difficult, never mind performing without a conductor, too! They each came out and played a solo piece; my favorite was Greg’s performance of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4.

Before Melody and Desirae began to play an arrangement of the Swan from Carnival of the Animals, Melody slipped up accidentally introduced the piece by saying it was *by* Carnival of the Animals, instead of by Saint-Saens. Her sister, who was already seated at the piano, started laughing, and continued to laugh even after Melody sat down to start playing. After she took a minute to collect herself, they started playing, and it was of course beautiful.

It was great to see all the little kids at the concert getting some early exposure to classical music, and they all seemed to really be enjoying it. (The Browns each started to play the piano when they were three years old.) At the end of the concert the audience gave them a standing ovation and they came out an did an encore of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Lots of fans wait in line to meet and greet the 5 Browns after their fabulous performance

And as you can see, there was a long line at the meet and greet afterward!  ~Sarah

The 5 Browns are so friendly and sweet! Fans eagerly thanked them for their wonderful performance!

We can’t help but Viva L’Opera

Recently I had the great pleasure of attending the Texas Choral Consort’s Summer performance: “Viva L’Opera!” The program featured a wonderfully diverse array of choruses from many beloved operas.

While I expected to recognize a few of the tunes from the more famous operas,  and to enjoy a few I had never heard of before… I did not expect it to be so fun! You can always count on TCC delivering high-quality solo vocalists and well rehearsed synchronicity among the chorus artists, and choral pieces often have the reputation of being somber and contemplative.  But this summer consortium injected a bit of humor into the mix and kept our hearts light in the face of over-the-top tragic opera plot lines. The audience couldn’t help but laugh out loud throughout the performance.

To begin with, a video of “What’s Opera, Doc?” (the old Bugs Bunny cartoon) was played overhead while the chorus members filed in to their assigned places, row by row.

Then KMFA’s host, Dianne Donovan, came to the stage to officially introduce the program.

KMFA’s Dianne Donovan introduces the performance

And then the narrator walked on stage: Ev Lunning, Jr. provided short and hilarious narratives about each set of choruses, complete with props! (Mr. Lunning is a familiar face in Austin’s theatre scene, as well as a famous voice-over talent and TV artist.) He started out with a horned helmet, and later appearances included a bridal veil, a flowing red cape, an arrow through his head, and a large margarita glass!

Even the musicians got into the game…Occasionally, the percussionist would step forward in some sort of relevant outfit,   like a tricorn-type hat, or in one case, a welder’s garb for the Anvil Chorus:

And did I mention how great the singing was? 🙂 Here’s a partial clip of Kirsten Watson and Soon-Chan Kwon singing the lovely Brindisi from La Traviata:

Mezzo Soprano Kathryn Findlen sings a piece from Carmen…  She’s everything you could want in a Carmen!

“Futureland”: Opening Night at the Harry Ransom Center exhibit

Guest blogger: Jules Brandon, KMFA-FM afternoon announcer and host of Pianoforte

Recently I had the opportunity to enjoy a glimpse of what the Harry Ransom Center has to offer at the Opening Night celebration of the new exhibit,  “I Have Seen the Future:  Norman Bel Geddes Designs America” (a.k.a. “Futureland”).

Jules Brandon contemplates the future

Jules Brandon contemplates the future

“FutureLand” is a retro-futuristic celebration for the fall exhibition I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.  We got an early glimpse of  the exhibition,  entered a drawing for a Geddes-inspired prize package, and even got to bring our own vision of the future to life with the Toy Joy’s interactive “City of the Future.”

Others simply relaxed in the Design Within Reach outdoor lounge while enjoying refreshments.

It was a wonderful exhibit and a fun party! More photos can be seen on the HRC Flickr page (look for the Toy Joy city!).

Portrait of the Artist: Jorgé Caballero

In the KMFA Studios: ACGS’s Matthew Hinsley, KMFA’s Dianne Donovan, and Jorge Caballero

Guest blogger: Dianne Donovan, KMFA-FM announcer and host of Classical Austin

Last fall, the great guitarist Jorgé Caballero was in town to be part of the Austin Classical Guitar Society’s “Austin Pictures,” where he performed works by Boccherini and Morel with the Miró Quartet, and Mussorgksy’s Pictures at an Exhibition (arranged for guitar).

On August 4th, he and the Miró will share the stage again at the Long Center for the performing Arts.

I had the chance to chat with him last year. We used a little of the interview for our broadcast of Austin Pictures, but now you can hear the entire interview on the KMFA website.

Though I’ve interviewed many artists, Mr. Caballero stood out for the engaging, poetic and accessible way he talked about his playing and his love for the guitar.

Here’s the interview — of course, Austin Pictures (of fall 2011) will be mentioned but this August 4th you will have a chance to hear him perform a different program with the Miró Quartet.

**The program will feature the Miro performing a Mozart Quartet, a Paganini quartet for violin, viola, cello and guitar, Caballero performing a (solo) suite by J.S. Bach, and all five musicians performing the Guitar Quintet by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco op. 143.

Event: Miró Quartet with Jorge Caballero

Saturday, August 4th, 2012 at 7:30pm

Dell Hall, The Long Center for the Performing Arts

More info at austinclassicalguitar.org

     ~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA announcer and producer of Classical Austin