Shared from the 6/2/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

CONCERTS

Texas Music Festival celebrates 30th season

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Photos courtesy of Texas Music Festival

Former fellow Kenneth Broberg returns to the Texas Music Festival as a guest artist.

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Festival alum Ernesto Tovar Torres will perform at the second concert.

The Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival will hit a musical milestone this summer, presenting its landmark 30th anniversary season.

Following a rigorous audition process with nearly 400 applicants, 94 selected musicians, ages 18 to 30, will come together at the University of Houston Moores School of Music to study, train and perform as a cohesive unit.

On Friday, the ensemble, led by music director and chief conductor Franz Anton Krager, will launch the monthlong intensive with the first of four weekly concerts in the Festival Orchestra series at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Fittingly, the celebratory evening will include two ceremonial tunes —“Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland and “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” by Joan Tower, alongside “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43” by Sergei Rachmaninoff and “Scheherazade, Op. 35” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The free performance, which will be followed by aticketed concert of the same program at the Moores Opera House the next evening, will feature concertmaster Xiao Wang and pianist Kenneth Broberg, two former fellows returning to the festival as guest artists.

“It’s a gift of music to the city,” general and artistic director Alan Austin said. “The Olshans created aprogram that puts on 25 or so performances every June at a time when the rest of the cultural life of the city is kind of closing down for the summer.”

This gift not only attracts talent from around the world, but it exhibits the best of what Houston has to share. The faculty consists of distinguished artists from the Moores and Shepherd schools of music, the Houston Symphony, and the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet orchestras, among others from across the country. Under their guidance, the fellows receive top-tier training while grasping first hand the career opportunities available within the city. Nearly 20 alums, including bass trombonist Phillip Freeman and violist Lorento Golofeev, have even become members of the aforementioned professional ensembles.

“I think it’s culturally just an incredible thing for the city to be able to offer itself,” said Austin, who participated in the festival’s inaugural season in 1990. His experience as a fellow, together with his involvement in other summer music festivals, provided him with an inside perspective that has contributed to his success in enhancing what began as a regional startup into an orchestral fellowship program that boasts national and international recognition.

“Our mission has remained the same,” he said. “How we approach it is different and has shifted over the years, but our goal is really to provide the best orchestral training that we can for the finest young musicians that we can attract.”

Launching pad

The festival offers chamber-music coaching, private lessons, master classes, mock auditions and opportunities to perform both within an ensemble and as an individual. In the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist Competition, fellows vie for the chance to play as a soloist with the festival orchestra as well as cash prizes. The first-place winner also receives an invitation to perform with the Akademisches Orchester at the esteemed Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany.

Every week, the orchestra is challenged with a new and desirable repertoire, including Gustav Mahler’s epic “Symphony No. 6,” which it performs under the baton of highly regarded guest conductors such as Carl St. Clair, Josep Caballé-Domenech and Rossen Milanov. The latter will lead the ensemble in its second concert titled “Cinematic Splendor,” which is a nod to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” and will feature another festival alum, horn player Ernesto Tovar Torres.

Originally from a small town in Mexico, Tovar is one of the newest members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but as a TMF fellow in 2012, Tovar struggled with the physicality of his embouchure, or the positioning of the lips, tongue and teeth when playing a brass or wind instrument, Austin explained.

“It was because he could come to the festival at no cost and study with William VerMeulen, who is a principal with the Houston Symphony, that he was able to play for hours without hurting himself,” he said, “and it’s because of that his career, his practicing and his abilities just took off.”

Personal impact

His is only one of many stories, however. Throughout its 30 years, the Texas Music Festival has impacted the trajectory of countless lives, both personally and professionally. Some musicians met their future spouse; others later joined reputable ensembles.

Broberg went on to become the silver medalist in the prestigious 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Besides performing in the opening-night concert, he will present a solo recital as part of the festival’s Perspectives series, which showcases guest artists including the touring quintet WindSync, and faculty members, such as violinist Kathleen Winkler and clarinetist Mark Nuccio.

“It’s so important for young students to see their faculty members perform,” Austin said. “You can learn a lot in a lesson, but you can also learn a lot just by watching how your teacher plays in public. That’s the secret gem of the Texas Music Festival, I would say.”

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.

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