Tickling the Ivories

Austin's first piano festival in full swing, featuring stars and aspiring musicians

Austin's first piano festival in full swing, featuring stars & newbies

Piano hands
Austin's first piano festival kicked off on Friday, May 17. Courtesy photo

Founded in 2012, the Austin Piano Festival is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the highest quality classical artists from around the world to Central Texas audiences. Director Matt McLaughlin has been hard at work over the past several months to organize the debut festival celebrating piano music in Austin, along with Johan Botes and Michael Schneider.

"We felt that with such a strong classical music and piano community, Austin deserved a festival devoted primarily to the piano," McLaughlin says. "There are so many fine pianists in town, and many incredible classical organizations, but no festivals devoted only to classical piano."

Following an opening gala on Friday, featuring star guest pianists include Gregory Allen, Sophia Gilmson, Katherine Race, Robert Freeman and more, The festival continues on May 18 with Christopher Guzman in a solo piano recital.

The internationally renowned pianist and winner of the 10th Concours International de Piano d’Orléans, Guzman will perform an exciting concert of diverse solo piano works including music by Chopin and Beethoven.

On Friday, May 24, Kris Pineda will perform some of the most musically forceful and demanding works in the piano repertoire, including the entire set of Chopin Ballades. Pineda's playing conjures descriptions such as intensity, conviction, depth and passion. You won't want to miss hearing this virtuoso artist in a rare Austin performance.

World famous pianist Spencer Myer takes the stage on Saturday, May 25, making his Austin debut in an extraordinary solo recital. Gold Medalist of the 2008 New Orleans International Piano Competition, Myer is garnering stellar audience and critical acclaim from around the globe, rapidly establishing himself as one of the most outstanding pianists of his generation. Myer's program will include Haydn, Debussy and Schubert.

All three of these concerts will take place at University United Methodist Church, with performances starting at 7:30 p.m. McLaughlin says that the festival will have a very open, accessible feel, with the musicians available to meet and chat after the performances. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Austin Piano Festival website.

The festival also includes a competition component, meant to give outstanding piano students in grades 7-12 a chance to compete for cash prizes, and to participate in masterclasses with our distinguished festival artists. The competition took place on May 11, with four winners in grades 7-9 and three winners from grades 10-12.

"The levels of playing was extraordinarily high, and all of the prizewinners will be performing alongside our guest artists at the closing gala on May 26th," adds McLaughlin.

The masterclasses are meant to give aspiring and talented young pianists the opportunity to work with prestigious musicans from around the country. The masterclass setting is part recital, part lesson, allowing you as an audience member to hear the playing of talented young artists, and watch as they are instructed by masters in the field. Guzman, Pineda and Myer will all teach a master class, as well as festival founder McLaughlin. Admission is free to all master classes.

The festival will conclude with the Closing Gala Concert on Saturday, May 25, which will feature performances from the solo competition winners, alongside the distinguished featured artists. The closing celebration will be followed by a reception for all guests to meet and greet festival artists and award winners.

A native of Delaware, McLaughlin began his studies at the age of eight and was quickly recognized for his precocious abilities. He made his Orchestra Debut at the age of 15 when he was invited as a guest artist for performances of Mozart's Piano Concerto in C Major (KV467) with the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra. As a soloist and collaborator, McLaughlin works regularly with musicians around the country.

"For me classical music is a way to express and share one's inner world on a profound level. I think it is a very important part of life. The idea of being able to help create something that brings this experience to others is a real joy. Every one of our guests is a true artist and I get a real satisfaction hearing them and creating something where others can hear them as well."