Alan Austin was among the first student musicians to participate in the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival (TMF) at the University of Houston. The violinist recalls a much smaller event that was put together on a “wing and prayer.” Still, that fledgling classical music festival went off without a hitch and left an indelible impression on the young musician and the community.
Fast-forward 26 years and Austin is now the general and artistic director for TMF. He tirelessly coordinates classes, rehearsals, concert schedules and other aspects of the month-long event. Still, his goal is to provide students with the same magical (and musical) experience that he received from the first TMF in 1990.
For a quarter of a century, TMF has entertained Houstonians with concerts and recitals. It also has groomed young musicians through specialized institutes and classes. This year’s festival officially kicked off this week on campus, and the Festival Orchestra’s first performance is at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 6 at UH’s Moores Opera House. Festival performances at UH and the Cynthia WoodS Mitchell Pavilion run through June 27. A complete schedule of performances is available here.
Austin has watched the festival grow by leaps and bounds since he took the director’s reins 15 years ago. The most notable change, he said, has been its evolution from a city event into an international spectacle.
“It was originally conceived as a festival for Houston students, so they could stay close to home,” Austin said. “The event, however, has consistently grown to include more students from across the state and the country … and now, we’re hosting students and acclaimed artists from around the globe.”
This year, TMF continues to welcome worldwide music stars to Houston. 2015 guest artists include world-class conductors Josep Caballé, Lavard Skou Larsen and Rossen Milanov. Featured players include former New York Philharmonic concertmaster and violinist Glenn Dicterow, and Houston Symphony principal French horn player William VerMeulen and other renowned performers.
These artists join hundreds of talented students hailing from around the world, as well as the acclaimed faculty of UH’s Moores School of Music in celebrating 26 years of summertime concerts.
Festival Orchestra performances will spotlight pieces based on the theme “Legends and Heroes.” These include Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life)” on June 6, Giuseppe Verdi’s “La forza del destino (The Power of Fate),” selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” on June 13, and a suite from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird on June 19 and 20.
“The works certainly reflect mythical, valiant figures, but they were all composed by the legends and heroes of classical music,” Austin said.
While the TMF Orchestra performs pieces from larger-than-life composers, the festival aims to hone the talents of legends in waiting. While orchestra members work with noted conductors, other students participate in institutes including Bel Canto Studies, the Informed Flutist, High School Piano and High School Jazz. Each institute runs for one week and is led by professional musicians. Institute students also deliver public performances.
Additionally, all TMF students can receive career insights from professional musicians during the festival’s professional development forums. Topics covered include performance anxiety, auditions and relaxation techniques.
“The festival is really aimed at helping these students grow as artists,” Austin said. “Performances and rehearsals play a big part in that process, but it’s crucial that they also learn about the music industry. Hearing from the world’s top musicians about the state of the profession is very important for anyone wanting to perform with a major symphony and work as a performer.”
Another aspect of TMF’s growth is its increased community presence. In addition to the festival’s concerts, TMF musicians taking their talents to the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist. They’ll perform each Tuesday in June as part of the Crain Garden Performance Series. Music from these mini-concerts will be broadcast throughout the facility. TMF musicians also deliver concerts for students at Houston’s Monarch School and several retirement homes throughout Houston.
Austin has certainly enjoyed watching the festival grow and credits the vision of its founders for its presence in Houston.
Immanuel and Helen Olshan sought to create a classical music event similar those in Lenox, Massachusetts or Aspen, Colorado. Through their generous support and guidance of then-UH music school director David Tomatz, the Texas Music Festival provided the city with an event it could call its own.
“This wouldn’t have happened with them,” Austin said. “It was their vision that made this happen. I know they would have both loved to see how the Texas Music Festival has become part of the city’s cultural fabric and has continued to deliver classical music to the masses.”