SXSW 2015: ATX Composers Showcase

by Maggie Stapleton

“Classical” (or even the younger-leaning “contemporary classical”) may not be a logical association with SXSW. Conference sessions from 11am- 6pm are filled with bands (and their managers/publicists) learning how to broaden their audience. Tech companies are trying to create the best new product.  Music showcases between 7pm-3am are dominated by rock, R&B, pop, hip hop, folk, electronic, and country. Most people filling the downtown Austin streets are not symphony-goers. They’re young, curious, energetic, rowdy, and hungry for discovering new bands and supporting their favorites.

After losing myself in this world on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I was delighted to unite with like-minded people at the ATX Composers Showcase, curated by Austin new music super guru Graham Reynolds, from 8pm-2am at the Hideout Theatre. The event was sponsored by KMFA.

The audience seemed to be mostly in their 20-30s and the size ranged from “wow, great showing!” to at capacity with a line out the door. That, combined with the artistry and creativity displayed by the performers, it was clear that the new music scene in Austin is thriving, fresh, unique, quirky, and utterly entertaining. From my iPhone, here are a few highlights:

8pm: Steve Parker and friends opened the evening by exploring all sorts of wonderfully unusual sounds that the trombone, human voice, electronics, and percussion can make.

9pm: Fast Forward Austin, a fabulous organization, dedicated to presenting new and innovative music to the Austin community, presented the Cordova Quartet. These guys mastered the juxtaposition of casual and serious. They dressed like they were just hanging with friends (cellist’s t-shirt said “mello cello”), but as soon as they started playing, their well-rehearsed, polished, and passionate side hit me like I was hearing the world in HD. They personally know the composers they performed (Dan Welcher and Karim Al-Zand) and knowing that casted the performance in a more meaningful, connected light.

PS their Viola encore by Kenji Bunch would have worked equally well on rock band stage.

10pm: line upon line. Percussion is a tough act to beat when it comes to aural AND visual experience. There’s just something really fun about watching people hit things. lul presented a sandwich of works by familiar and lesser known composers: the always mesmerizing Steve Reich (“Music for Pieces of Wood), followed by a piece they commissioned (pictured below) and closing it out with “Ohko,” by Xenakis.  The “bread” of this “sandwich” (Reich and Xenakis) were particularly appealing to a broad audience.

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11pm: Giddy up, partners.  Justin Sherburn and the eclectic band Montopolis gave us a 40 minute whirlwind of their “The Return of Draw Egan,” a re-written silent western film accompanied by excerpts of Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks. In lieu of the film projection, Justin gave the audience a very brief synopsis update from time to time.  Justin’s narration and nimble work on the keys combined with the blend of strings, floating vocals, drum set, and occasional flute flutterings made for entertainment at its wild west finest.

12am: From the keys, Graham Reynolds led a band of 11 furiously talented musicians in a series of country/folk inspired rockin’ fusion tunes – The Marfa Triptych Part One: Country and Western Big Band Suite, which Graham describes as “classic instrumental country meets Western soundtrack meets power jazz rhythm section.” Read more about this awesome project here!

1am: Mother Falcon has always been of the “Rethink Classical” mindset. The group began as a jam session among a few adventurous high school cellists eager to break out of the rigid repertoire predominate in their musical training.  Seven years later, they have added violin, saxophone, trumpet, accordion, banjo, guitars, and bassoon to the mix and are still jamming out and displaying amazing artistry all the way. This was only the second live performance of “The Star Nation Suite,” music written for a documentary about StarCraft, and they seemed to have it down like it was their signature piece. I was too mesmerized to pull out my camera during their set, but check out their Tiny Desk concert:


I couldn’t have asked for a better evening of “new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre” – a perfect fit for what we champion here at Second Inversion! Bravi tutti, Austin.