Austin’s first piano festival showcases global talent

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The Austin Piano Festival (APF) is hoping to hit all the right notes with its second, two week long showing at the University United Methodist Church.

APF kicked off on May 11 with a solo competition featuring high school and middle school talent from across the state. Many of these students were selected for the festival’s master classes where renowned pianists from around the world lead an insightful workshop before a live audience. These masterful guests artists, like Kris Pineda and Spencer Myer, are the types of musicians you would find at major music halls around the globe.

APF was started by three local pianists; Executive Director, Matthew McLaughlin, Johan Botes and Michael Schneider. What began as a promising idea between friends developed into a nonprofit festival like Austin has never seen before.

“For quite a while we all felt that with such a strong classical music and piano community, Austin deserved a festival devoted primarily to the piano. It’s been quite a lot of hard work, but very exciting and it’s extremely gratifying to see it all come together,” McLaughlin said.

Consisting of an opening gala, master classes and three solo recital, the festival concludes with its closing gala, a celebratory concert that will feature festival prize winners performing alongside esteemed visiting artists.

“This is quite a rare thing– to see world class artists performing in the same program as students. It’s going to be pretty thrilling,” McLaughlin said.

One musician featured in the APF, the aforementioned Myer, is described by McLaughlin as a “giant of an artist,” praising not only his musical ability, but also his winning personality.

“Spencer seems absolutely at home on stage, and when you watch him play you get the sense that he’s playing especially for you, sharing something very special and heartfelt,” McLaughlin said.

Myer studied piano at the famously LGBT-friendly Oberlin College, but initially found the out-and-proud nature of the student body a bit overwhelming. And even though Myer came out the night before he left for college, it took him time to come out again in college.

“I was a sheltered Midwestern boy from a small Ohio suburb, for whom a private life was truly meant to be private. I simply resolved to keep quiet, meet a huge amount of wonderful friends, and take my time in truly coming out. With the introduction of my first boyfriend into my life at the start of my junior year, I had made it,” Myer said.

For Myer, his passion for music taught him how to be true to himself. In fact, he compares choosing to follow one’s passions to accepting and honoring one’s sexuality.

“In pursuing music as my profession, choosing a hard road in life because I knew it was my greatest passion, I was being as true to myself as I possibly could,” Myer said.

Like any uplifting art-form, classical music must be experienced to be appreciated. In a world ridden with glitchy synths and high production gloss, there is something raw and enchanting about the genre of classical music that is as mysteriously endearing as it is innately personal.

“For me what is truly exciting and important about classical music is that it strikes at the heart of what it means to be a human being. When you watch someone on stage they aren’t just playing the piano, they’re taking a tremendous psychological risk; baring their soul in front of an audience, risking memory slips, wrong notes, shaky fingers, nerves, and even ridicule,” McLaughlin said.

Although Austin is bustling with piano buffs, you do not have to know all of Beethoven’s sonatas to enjoy the festival. APF is for lovers of music and the joy sound can bring to mankind.

“I think on a deeper level I’d just suggest to come with an open mind–not just about the music but about the intensity of the experience you might have,” McLaughlin said.

APF hopes to continue their success with an expanded festival next year, with an even larger emphasis on education. And with Austin being the Live Music Capital of the World, they are hoping the local music community will continue to support their endeavors.

“We’ve done a good job of laying the foundation this year, and already have some of the best pianists in the world visiting, so I think its a great place to build from,” said McLaughlin.

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