Having just moved to town a week ago to study music composition at UT, I spent my first official weekend as a classical music enthusiast in Austin at two incredibly unique concerts that presented something traditional in their satisfyingly distinct approaches.
Guest performers included Austin Symphony Principal Harpist Elaine Martin Barber, and two members of the Waterloo Sound Conspiracy, flutist Seetha Shivaswamy and oboist Rebecca Marie Fairweather Haskins.
It was my first time listening to concert music in a cafe, which has both its ups and downs. On the upside, you can bring homework and quietly enjoy a latte while you listen; on the downside, seating is limited and there are constant background noises of glasses clinking, espresso machines whirring and conversations to ignore.
The atmosphere did lend itself well to Waddle’s fun, informal circus ringmaster presentation style. There was at least one tiny dog and one small child that enjoyed the heck out of this concert, which is something you won't often see at any traditional music venue.
It wasn’t the most challenging music, per se – mostly premieres of Waddle’s compositions about coffee, such as "Coffee Traumen: Dreams of Coffee," with some Bach and Mozart thrown in – but it struck a nicely informal chord for someone who is used to experiencing classical music in a very formal manner.
As a composer and a classical music lover, The Sound Bridge Project definitely got me thinking. I know a few composers (myself included) who could benefit from having this kind of casual attitude about their premieres.
Saturday night, I traveled to the First Presbyterian Church of Austin to experience a more formal setting alongside a slightly older crowd. Even so, La Follia Austin Baroque presented a concert featuring something I had never experienced before: music of Mozart and Haydn on traditional baroque instruments.
Now, before you write off baroque music as not for you, you should know that, when you’re in a small enough venue where you can really feel the sound of the delicate but powerful baroque orchestra, it can be so exciting. Saturday night was no exception.
La Foillia makes it plainly evident just how much instruments have changed since those old school 18th Century days. For example, the tuning was completely different, the bows for string instruments like violin and cello were different, concert flutes were made out of wood (rather than the metal ones we now use), and some string instruments like the viola de gamba or the baryton have basically disappeared completely.
Early music performance practice is a rare thing, even in the classical world, but these guys presented an excellently performed and planned concert, almost packing the acoustically-sound church.
Highlights included the baroque flute playing of Marcus McGuff in Mozart's "Flute Quartet in D Major," conductor and gamba-ist James Brown’s descriptions of the baryton and the viola de gamba before Haydn's "Baryton Trio in D Major," and Austin Critics Table Award nominee soprano Gitanjali Mathur's performance of Mozart's "Exsultate, Jubilate."
But for me the best part of the night was director Keith Womer’s performance of Haydn's "Keyboard Concerto in D Major," particularly the cadenza (ornamental solo) at the end of the second movement. It is hard to make an instrument like the harpsichord sing since you cannot control the dynamics (loud or soft sound quality), but damn, if he didn't make that happen.
Womer was also perhaps the most modest performer that I’ve met in a while. After the concert, when I complimented him on his performance, Womer took zero of the credit and gave it all straight to the composer, Haydn. All with a big smile on his face.
I felt very welcome at both The Sound Bridge Project and La Follia as a first time listener; and so far, I feel very welcome to Austin and its classical music scene in general.
The Sound Bridge Project meets monthly with a new Out of the Halls showcase and a revolving cast of participating musicians. Check Facebook for upcoming events.
La Follia Austin Baroque plays next in October, with another show at First Presbyterian entitled Viol Intentions: Music for Viola da Gambas.