UH's Texas Music Festival Turns 20

Twenty years ago, Houston arts patrons Immanuel and Helen Olshan envisioned a major orchestra festival in their home city.

With support from the University of Houston, their vision came into focus. Now, the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival (TMF) continues to entertain thousands of Houstonians annually, while educating student musicians from around the world.

Hosted by UH's Moores School of Music (MSM), TMF celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with events running June 9 - July 3. The festival will present nearly 30 public concerts performed at UH's Moores Opera House, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Texas A&M University and other locations. It also will offer master classes and institutes aimed at some of the world's top music students. A complete schedule of TMF events and ticket information can be accessed at www.uh.edu/2009tmf.

"This is a major year for the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival," said David Ashley White, director of MSM. "Any 20th anniversary is already a great accomplishment in itself, but that it is part of this year's joyful celebration makes it even more special."

Immanuel and Helen Olshan were inspired to start a festival like those on the Tanglewood estate in Lenox, Mass., or Aspen, Colo. after travelling regularly to these music festivals across the country. They ultimately decided that Houston music aficionados deserved a unique musical experience in their own city. With support and guidance from UH and then-music school director David Tomatz, TMF debuted in 1990.

Since its inception, music education has been at the heart of this event. Students attending this festival learn and perform alongside true masters of their craft.

Among TMF's earliest students was a young violinist named Alan Austin, who was present at the inaugural festival. The experience left a lasting impression on Austin. So much so, he has worked with the festival for more than 10 years and now serves as its general and artistic director.

"What I remember from the first year of the festival was the absolute excitement that we were part of something brand new and a sense of discovery as we came together as musicians to work with great artists," he said. "There also was a wonderful feeling of ownership by the festival founders, Immanel and Helen Olshan. They came to all of the events. Mrs. Olshan continued to come to our concerts until she passed away a few years ago at the age of 104. When the students, who were here on scholarships provided by the Olshans, would thank her, she would always reply, Thank you for coming. It's wonderful to have you here.'"

Although that first festival consisted of primarily local students, TMF now attracts young artists from around the world. Likewise, it brings world-class professional talents to Houston. This year's guest artists include pianist (and MSM alumnus) Richard Dowling, violinist Elmar Oliveira, conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech and opera singer Joseph Evans. Composer Christopher Theofanidis (also an MSM alum) also will be on hand for the premiere of his composition "Symphony for Orchestra" during the festival's final concert July 3 at Moores Opera House. This particular piece was commissioned by TMF, the Atlanta Symphony and the Savannah Music Festival.

Other highlights include Moores Opera House concerts featuring the Moores Concert Chorale (soon to be Wales bound for performances at noted festival Llangollen Musical Eisteddfod) June 23 and the TMF Jazz Project on June 9, which combines the talents of the state's top jazz players.

"The last 20 years have seen phenomenal growth both in terms of the quality of the students that we attract each summer and the scope of our programs," Austin said. "The vision of TMF's founders is continued today through the work of the Immanuel & Helen Olshan Foundation and its incredible board. Because of this support, we have been able to increase the amount of student fellowships, continue bringing in dynamic faculty and artists and offering extraordinary music to the Houston community."