Austin classical music station hosts Chicago composer for activity-packed residency
Like many college towns, Austin is lucky to have an active classical music station. In fact, KMFA is such an integral part of the arts scene that Mayor Kirk Watson recently declared a KMFA Day. People are always in and out of the central Draylen Mason Studio, but one composer is sticking around for a weeklong residence starting May 21.
Composer Clarice Assad briefly joins the KMFA team from Chicago, bringing inspiration not just from the Windy City, but from her background as a Brazilian-American artist. Her vocal and piano work in classical, world music, pop, and jazz styles has been nominated for Grammy Awards and represented by a long list of labels and other institutions.
“I am honored to be selected as the Draylen Mason Composer-in-Residence,” said Assad in a release. “There is an exciting wave of inclusivity in today's music world that is refreshing and inspiring. As more artists are embracing diversity and experimentation, along with illuminating underrepresented communities and voices, this newfound unity carries a message of beauty and hope resonating with global audiences.”
The station has strong ties to Assad's hometown. Its new CEO, George Preston, spent five years there as vice president of radio and general manager at classical and folk station WFMT. The Austin station also employs a broadcaster, Lisa Simeone, to host a two-hour program that plays and discusses performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Assad's residency will include "a week of creative exploration," but it's not just the composer sitting at a piano. She will perform some original music, including some piano improvisations, but she will also mentor high school students from three local schools, lead an interactive and collaborative workshop for East Austin Prep, and give a VIP dinner performance with local string quartet Invoke.
If that week's not busy enough, it'll all culminate in one lasting piece of art: a new composition for the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra will perform the new work in September at Bates Recital Hall.
“It's apparent now that we were lucky to have Quinn Mason as our inaugural composer-in-residence, as he has become increasingly in demand with residencies and premieres. With the bar set high, we hope to keep the momentum by selecting a composer for 2023 that could really shine — and that person is Clarice [Assad],” said the KMFA team member who created the program, director of broadcasting and content Anthony McSpadden.
“She excels at connecting with an audience, and education is a major pillar in everything that she does," he continued. “There's a playful nature about some of Clarice's writing that is infectious. It draws you in and makes you smile. While much of her music is written for soloists or small ensembles, her composing skills for orchestra particularly stand out. ... There's humor, there's tenderness, there's majesty; and there's just real fun in the writing.”
The studio's namesake, Draylen William Mason, was a young Black musician killed in 2018, who was widely regarded for his skill on double bass. The residency program, as well, honors the teen by keeping a strong focus on diversity within classical music, one of the most Eurocentric art canons in the United States.
“Draylen Mason was a promising young musician whose sudden and tragic loss we still deeply grieve; however, it brings comfort to know that his name is being honored, cherished, and respectfully remembered through this admirable initiative,” said Assad. “Music, the one potent force in his life, is also one of the most positive aspects of human creation. It binds us all over time and across space — physical or ethereal."
Listeners can tune into KMFA 89.5 from May 21-26 to hear Assad's compositions and performances on the air. Check the broadcast schedule at kmfa.org. More information about performances will appear on the same website when available.