When it began three decades ago, the founders of the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival—kicking off this weekend at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands and the Moores School of Music at UH—couldn’t have known what it would become. The Olshans were fans of classical music and believed in supporting emerging artists; they saw no need for audiences to head off to Aspen or Tanglewood for those summer festivals when they could remain at home in Houston and enjoy the same kinds of high-quality orchestra and chamber concerts those storied festivals were known for.
“I think [celebrating our 30th anniversary] is such a testament to the Olshans’ vision, and how they saw a need for a program like this,” said Alan Austin, the festival’s general and artistic director. “Their stewardship has really made it possible for us to be here for 30 years.”
The month-long festival offers a series of master classes and performance opportunities for young professional classical musicians, many of them in college or graduate school. The festival exposes them to some of the foremost players and teachers in the world, lauded as experts on their instruments. But it’s also a chance for audiences to see the work these musicians do in concerts throughout the month. The Festival Orchestra Series kicks off on June 7, in a free concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion (it’ll repeat on June 8 at the Moores School, but will require a ticket), featuring the festival’s musicians and Van Cliburn International Piano Competition silver medalist Kenny Broberg. Three orchestral concerts follow during the month of June, culminating in the grand finale on June 29.
“I think people will be surprised that these are some of the finest musicians in the world,” Austin says. “It’s so exciting to see them together, and working together in ways you might not imagine.”
Many participants, of course, have performed in orchestras, but the Texas Music Festival Orchestra is one that is developed across the weeks of the festival, as players learn not only more about how they can be better instrumentalists, but also learning from each other through the rehearsal process.
“It’s such a great and unique experience,” says French horn player Anni Hochhalter, who was a Texas Music Festival Fellow in 2009 and went on to be part of the Houston-based chamber ensemble Windsync. “The year I was there, I was with a fantastic section of horn players and it was great to collaborate with these young, talented musicians from all over the country and the world.”
Two of Hochhalter’s Windsync colleagues, clarinetist Julian Hernandez and bassoonist Kara LaMoure, are also TMF alumni, and the festival’s alumni are playing in some of the country’s leading orchestras, including here in the Houston Symphony and the orchestras for the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera. “The festival is rigorous [for musicians],” Hochhalter says. “All you do is eat and play. You’re in rehearsals and you’re doing orchestra concerts once a week, or playing in ensembles. It really exposes you to music at a high level.”
The festival allows audiences to see tomorrow’s classical music professionals at the early stage of their career. And for those who see the full series of concerts, it’s a way to watch them develop their musicianship in something close to real time.
“By the finale, the orchestra is a very different one from the first concert,” he says. “It’s really a magical month."
Texas Music Festival, June 4–29. More info and tickets at uh.edu.