Matt Talks with Classical Guitar Alive's Tony Morris - Upcoming CGA! fundraiser 10/29

Classical Guitar Alive! is a global classical guitar radio phenomenon produced right here in Austin by Tony Morris.  The show airs in Austin on Fridays at 9PM and again on Sundays at 11am on KMFA, 89.5FM, and each week brings insight, interviews and great music with guests that range from composers and guitar intellectuals to up and coming virtuosi to the classical guitar world’s brightest stars.

Classical Guitar Alive! has a wonderful fundraiser coming up on Saturday, October 29th, one I attend almost every year, and I thought I’d try to snag Tony for a quick conversation about himself, his wife – and fabulous flute player – Renata Green, his show, the fundraiser, and more.

Matthew Hinsley: Tell me how you first got interested in producing Classical Guitar Alive?

Tony Morris: I started doing the Classical Guitar Alive radio program in 1993, shortly after graduation from UT with my Master’s in guitar with Adam Holzman. Like a lot of students nearing graduation, I worried about career options.

Fortunately, during my last semester at UT, Adam told me about a guitar teaching job opening at a college in Houston. I applied for it, and had a successful audition. I remember the dean who auditioned me said that he wanted me to keep in touch with him, because he had a feeling that I “was going places.”

I took that to mean that I was going to get the job, so I prepared for the move to Houston, and began brainstorming about how I could establish myself there. I came up with an idea to do a guitar radio program on one of the local public radio stations there. I was devastated when I learned that I didn’t get the job. They hired a local guitarist instead.

Anyway, I picked myself up and realized that the guitar radio program was still a good idea, and that maybe I could do it here in Austin - even though I had absolutely no Radio-TV-Film training… and in those days was painfully shy and hated public speaking. What was I thinking?!

 

Nevertheless, I started pestering both KMFA and KUT, and KMFA relented first. Scott Dawes, the program director then, agreed to do a guitar show on a trial basis, and the first CGA show aired on KMFA in October of 1993. The opening and closing theme music back then was a piece that I wrote and recorded.  I chose the name “Classical Guitar Alive” because I had read an article in Guitar Player Magazine titled “Is Classical Guitar Dead?” The radio program was and is my rebuttal.

In the beginning, I would go to KMFA, record my commentary on their reel-to-reel tape machine, and then hand them a playlist and stack of CDs. The on-air announcer would play the tape, pause it, and then play a track from the CD according to the playlist. A few months later, I was offered a part-time weekend announcer position at KMFA, and I started doing CGA live. It was terrifying at first, but exciting, too.

MH: I didn’t arrive in town until 1996 – but already Austin was buzzing about the show.  I remember one particularly colorful evening after we had presented Bill Kanengiser in concert, and Bill and I came by the KMFA studio so the two of you could do an interview.  It was after midnight!  The show has certainly grown, Tony, tell me about the growth, what has been most exciting?

TM: The show is now on over 250 radio stations across the US and internationally, which sounds like a lot, but there is still a lot of room to grow. The most exciting thing recently has been that CGA is now finally broadcast in New York City, thanks to the expansion of the WWFM network in New Jersey. I have been trying to get CGA on in NYC for years. We also recently added stations in Philadelphia and Atlanta, both major markets.

MH: Let’s talk about this event coming up for you later this month.  I’ve been many times and love it… what is it, and can folks still get tickets?

TM: Yes! Classical Guitar Alive is having its 6th annual fundraiser event on Saturday, Oct. 29th from 3:00pm-7:00pm at the beautiful Wimberley home of Charlie & Taako Parker, at 300 Loma Vista in Wimberley. Charlie and Taako Parker are great supporters of both Classical Guitar Alive and the Austin Classical Guitar Society. We’re very excited to have Susan McDonald back by popular demand as our special musical guest. Proceeds benefit the Classical Guitar Alive nonprofit organization’s internationally-broadcast radio program, and its community outreach program.  For reservations, folks can call us at (512) 657-1400
 or send an email to ClassicalGuitarAlive@gmail.com. You can also purchase tickets online here.

MH: I'd love to hear a bit about Tony Morris the guitarist, and CGA's performance outreach.

TM: Thanks! Flutist Renata Green, my wife, directs CGA’s Community Outreach program. Most arts nonprofits do community outreach, like ACGS’s wonderful educational outreach, but CGA’s outreach program is unique in that we are the only one that sends our musicians to perform in hospitals, children’s shelters, hospices and more.

I’ll never forget, over a year ago, Renata, oboist Jennifer Bernard, and I performed in the lobby of the Dell Children’s Hospital. There was a little boy about 8 years old with severe burns walking with his grandmother. Despite his injuries, he started marching around in time to the music and got very excited, asked us about the instruments. His grandmother was very happy to see him so enthused, and I was so proud of Renata and Jennifer for their professionalism and for how engaging they were with him.

My first performance in Austin was Christmas Eve, 1990. I had just moved here, didn’t know anyone, and didn’t have family or friends here yet, so I was feeling a little lonesome and sorry for myself. I made myself snap out of it and called a local hospice and asked if I could play (pro bono) for their patients. I played at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House for an audience of two people: a bed-ridden patient in the final stages of full-blown AIDS and his nurse. The patient said, “Oh, a classical guitarist. Know any Albeniz?”  I started doing volunteer outreach when I was an undergrad student for the performance experience, and just kept doing it.

MH: You and Renata are animal lovers.  Tell me about your pets?

TM: We have two dogs, Lucy, Jiggly-Puff, and a 3-legged cat with the unfortunate name of Gimpy (we didn’t name her that). We don’t have kids yet, but if you total our pets’ weight, they’re roughly equivalent to one child, albeit a very smelly and poorly-mannered one!

MH: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Tony.  It’s tremendous to get an update on your amazing work, and to learn a bit more about your journey here.  Is there anything else you'd like to share?

TM: Come on out to CGA’s event in Wimberley on Oct. 29th!

And, there are two big projects in the works, a PBS TV program called American Classical that CGA is developing in conjunction with KLRN, which did the pilot for The Antiques Roadshow. The format is part home tour, part house concert with classical guests and stars from other kinds of music.  I told my co-producer that that I was concerned that I had a face made for radio, but he reassured me by saying, “Tony, no one is too ugly for PBS.” Whew! What a relief! He did tell me to drop some weight for the cameras, which I’ve done.

I can’t say more about the second project, other than it is very exciting. I recently had to choose between expanding CGA’s work, doing these two new big projects or continuing my adjunct guitar professor job at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, TX. I did the unthinkable in the guitar world, which is to voluntarily leave a college teaching job (and on very good terms, I should mention!). CGA’s mission is to promote the love of classical music with the guitar to the widest possible audience in innovative ways which have the deepest impact. The second project is not a CGA project, but it sure does fit its mission.

Tony Morris and Renata Green (with doggie)


Saturday Night: Media, Parking, and more…

Here's the latest on Austin Pictures!  Love to see that media pick up.

I particularly like the video piece KUT did with the young artists - it opens with them not being able to remember Mussorgsky's name!  Funny!

Media: Austin Pictures will be featured live on YNN today at 11am.  A full-hour radio story will air at 7PM tonight on Classical Austin on KMFA, 89.5 FM.  Friday morning at 8:50am Jorge Caballero will perform live on the Fox 7 Morning News program.  A funny and inspiring video story on the artists just came out online on KUT’s Storyboard (whole story here)!  And a great event overview article is here at CultureMap.

Also yesterday this great TV Story came out about the students in Brownsville who are busily preparing to come here to be part of the show!  It’s a great companion piece to the article in the Oklahoman a few weeks back about the high school students in Oklahoma City who are also preparing like crazy.

Tickets: Are available at (877) 435-9849 or online.  Save 15-20% by purchasing ACGS Season Tickets online or at 512-300-2247 (includes Austin Pictures).  ACGS Season tickets will be sold only through 5PM tomorrow (Thursday).  ACGS Season Tickets will be unavailable Friday or at the door Saturday, though single tickets for Austin Pictures will be available as long as supplies last.

Parking: The best guide for parking at ACL Live is online here. You’ll see 7 nearby options on a map with details below it!

Austin Pictures Insight Videos: Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League, ASO’s Maestro Peter Bay, Composer Joseph Williams, Miró String Quartet.

Most popular AP blog posts: Artwork has arrived, The Program for Saturday Night, Austin Pictures Top 10, Jorge Caballero.


Austin Pictures Spotlight: Carolyn and Marc Seriff

Carolyn and Marc Seriff have been tremendous supporters of the Austin Classical Guitar Society.  They are Presenting Sponsors of Austin Pictures.  We first met surrounding our multi-award-winning 2010 presentation of the GFA International Convention we called “Austin Goes Classical”, which they also sponsored.

Events in the arts like that simply do not happen without generous sponsors like Carolyn and Marc, and so I asked Marc a few questions recently to learn a bit more about these wonderful civic-minded arts patrons.

Matthew Hinsley: Tell me about you and Carolyn?

Marc Seriff: Carolyn grew up on an Indiana farm while I was actually born and raised in Austin.  We met when we both worked for a company called Telenet - one of the pioneers of commercial data communications.  Carolyn remained at Telenet until her retirement, while I went on to do several DC-area startups ending up as the founding CTO of AOL.  We were married in 1989 and retired to Texas in 1996.  We've got two sons - Dan and Jason - both of whom now live in Austin.  Jason is married to Elizabeth and has a beautiful 3 year-old daughter.  We spend most of our time at our home in Horseshoe Bay, although we now spend 2 or 3 days a week at our condo in downtown Austin.  We spend a lot of time attending the performing arts and I'm a huge Longhorn sports fan - especially basketball.

MH: Why do you feel it's important to give back to our community?

MS: We've been incredibly lucky in our lives and do have some belief that giving back is important.  In a few instances, that's the driving force behind our giving but, frankly, in most of the cases, we give because we're passionate about the causes and organizations that we give too.  There's an amazing feeling when you're able to help solve a problem or create some new solution or work of art.  Neither of us is particularly artistic or creative ourselves so this becomes a way we can be part of the process.

MH: You have been tremendous supporters of ACGS.  We first met when you generously sponsored “Austin Goes Classical”.  Why are you supporting Austin Pictures?

MS: Multiple answers to this one.  The obvious answer is to provide support to some beautiful music.  Beyond that, frankly, we're really supporting ACGS, rather than just Austin Pictures and there are three great reasons for that.  First, collaboration between non-profit organizations is one of our hot-buttons and, first with last year's conference and now with Austin Pictures, nobody is doing a better job of that in Austin than ACGS.  Second, we're both big believers in the importance of the arts as part of the educational experience.  It's pretty stunning the success that ACGS has had locally with AISD and internationally with the curriculum project.  Finally, we both love Austin and ACGS has, in its field, made Austin an international focal point for classical guitar.

MH: What other arts organizations or causes are you passionate about?

MS: When we first got back to Texas, we were both extremely active in non-profits in the Marble Falls area.  Carolyn chaired the board of the Family Crisis Center and we both served as board members of the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes.  For about a decade, we ran a small foundation in Marble Falls that assisted area non-profits and created some new organizations like the Family Services Center, the Highland Lakes Health Partnership and the Legacy Fund.

Now, we're both active in the arts.  Carolyn, next month, will join the board of Zach Scott Theatre.  I serve on the Long Center board and executive committee and the advisory board for UT's Department of Theater and Dance.  We also both believe in creating sustainability for non-profits and, for that reason, I serve on the board of Austin Community Foundation and Carolyn, on the Legacy Fund board, a hill-country branch of ACF.

MH: We cannot thank you both enough, Marc.  Community-based project like Austin Pictures simply wouldn’t be possible with folks like you in the community.  See you there!


Matt Talks with Peter Bay about Austin Pictures!

I had a wonderful time sitting down to talk about Austin Pictures with Peter Bay recently.  We were in the Long Center's Kodosky Lounge looking north at downtown Austin.  Beautiful!

View the video here!


Austin Pictures: KMFA Live Broadcast, a Talk with Joan Kobayashi

For Austin Pictures, KMFA Classical 89.5 is not only a Media Sponsor, they have also joined us as a production partner to broadcast the evening live simultaneously with the show!  So if it turns out you can’t come down to see the show at ACL Live on October 1st… you can still tune in your radio, or listen online, to the whole production.

This is actually not the first time we’ve played together like this.  Do you remember the last time they broadcast a show live for us?  It was for the opening of Austin Goes Classical last summer at the Long Center when Pepe Romero played his dazzling, sold-out show at the Long Center.  What a night that was!

We love KMFA.  And we wanted to sit down with KMFA’s General Manager, Joan Kobayashi, to learn a bit more about the station.

Matt Hinsley for Austin Pictures: What are some core principles or values that define KMFA?

Joan Kobayashi for KMFA: We include excellence of content, fiscal responsibility and community collaboration as some of our most important core principles.  All of our principles require a constant focus on community trusteeship and stewardship.  Staff, board, listeners and donors alike are all trustees and stewards of this community asset we call 89.5, KMFA – an all-classical public radio service for Austin and Central Texas.  We consider the station and its resources as a trust we must preserve and enhance – and we operate with a sense of stewardship on behalf of the communities we serve, consciously working to honor the trust placed in us.

MH: Why do you feel it's important to give back to our community?

JK: We are part of, sustained by, and serve our community.   Giving back is an inherent part of our mission and community responsibility.  KMFA has long considered gifts in support of our station as gifts for Central Texans.

MH: Why are you supporting Austin Pictures?

JK: We feel strongly that our programming should be reflective of our community - and live broadcasts of locally based performances are the epitome of that reflection.  Having successfully collaborated with the Austin Classical Guitar Society in the past, we accepted without hesitation when asked to be part of Austin Pictures.  Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is described as a monumental masterpiece -  so, too, is this amazing collaborative event that you - Matt Hinsley  - have put together.  We’re thrilled to extend its reach to as many people as possible through our broadcast!

MH: Tell me about the live broadcast you're planning?

JK: Our broadcast will begin at 7:30pm on October 1st and will be co-hosted by Dianne Donovan (KMFA mid-day announcer and Classical Austin producer) and Keith Neisler (KMFA Program Director).  Content will include feature interviews with the performers before the concert and during intermissions.  We will also have an online component where the performance’s multimedia images will be displayed on our website.

MH: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

JK: That we can’t wait!  We particularly love working with you and the Austin Classical Guitar Society (ACGS).  We’re also proud to collaborate with KUT and ACGS in presenting “Classical Cactus,” a new program that features the Austin Classical Guitar Society’s series of the same name at the Cactus Cafe.  Our first program airs September 6th, and the remainder of the series will air throughout the year.  More great Classically Austin programming!


Pictures Spotlight: Pisco Portón, Opening Night Dinner

We are busy planning the opening night dinner that will directly precede Austin Pictures on October 1st.  Doors open for Austin Pictures at ACL Live (just north of City Hall, in the W Hotel) at 6:30PM, AV/previews begin at 7:30 and the show starts at 8.  But across the street in Silicon Lab’s east building, beginning at 5:30, we’re having our opening night dinner!

Jorge Caballero, the genius guitarist who is our centerpiece guest performer for Austin Pictures, is from Peru.  We learned this summer that chef Julio, head chef of our new favorite cuisine partner, La Sombra Bar and Grill, is also Peruvian!  So it seemed like the perfect fit to ask La Sombra to create a Peruvian feast for opening night!

Our friends at La Sombra introduced us to Pisco Portón.  These distillers of premium Peruvian Pisco are not only brilliant at what they do, but they are also very generous and community-minded.  They have joined in as a sponsor of our opening night dinner.  Thank you Pisco Portón!

“What is Pisco?” You ask?  I thought you might!  I had a conversation with the good people at Pisco Portón to learn a bit more (ooh, and there’s even a recipe below!).

Matt Hinsley: We are so grateful for your support of our opening night dinner and of our Austin Pictures project.  I’m sure that I’m not alone in wanting to know more about Pisco and, specifically, Pisco Portón.  Can you help?

PP: Pisco Portón is a new, ultra premium white spirit that is versatile in cocktails and offers complexity with a delicate finish when savored on its own. Born from grapes that grow in the shadows of the Andes Mountains, Pisco Portón is artisanally crafted at Hacienda La Caravedo distillery in Ica, Peru. Building on the heritage and traditions of this distillery, which was founded in 1684 and is the oldest in the Americas, Pisco Portón combines centuries-old methods with state-of-the-art and eco-friendly technology to create a “mosto verde pisco” of unmatched quality.

MH: I understand we’ll be mixing up some special Pisco Portón drinks at our opening night dinner, but could you share one of your favorite recipes with us now?

PP: Sure!  This is the recipe for “The Portonero”:

2 oz. Pisco Portón

1 tsp. fresh lime juice

1 tsp. simple syrup

1 slice of fresh ginger

1 dash of Angostura™ bitters

Top off with ginger ale

Fresh lime wedge

Pour Pisco Portón, lime juice, simple syrup, ginger and bitters into a tall glass with ice. Top off with ginger ale. Stir ingredients and garnish with a lime wedge.

MH: We’re very grateful for your support of Austin Pictures and our opening night dinner.  Why do you feel it’s important to give back to the community?

PP: Pisco Portón has a commitment to being a good neighbor and to practicing business sustainably. Pisco Portón’s new state-of-the-art distillery was built with the environment in mind, incorporating design features and technology to reduce water and energy waste, as well as carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, Pisco Portón is proud to support a number of worthy causes including Austin Pictures.

MH: I’m sure there are many great causes seeking your support.  Is there something about Austin Pictures that made you want to support the project?

PP: Austin Pictures shares the best of music, film and art with its community and Pisco Portón was elated to hear you selected legendary Peruvian guitarist Jorge Caballero as the centerpiece. As a product based in Peruvian heritage and tradition, Pisco Portón is honored to be a part of Austin Pictures, creating the perfect Peruvian evening where music, cuisine and cocktails are paired together just as they would be in Peru.

MH: Are there other artistic causes you’ve supported recently, that you’re excited about?

PP: We recently sponsored Dan’s Paper Art Exhibition, an event that supports New York area artists.  Although a new brand that launched this year, Pisco Portón is excited about supporting more arts organizations that do great work for their communities such as Austin Pictures.

MH: Is Pisco Portón available all over the US now?

PP: Pisco Portón is currently available in Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio, Minnesota and South Carolina and will become available in more states very soon.

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They also sent a great shot of Master Distiller Johnny Schuler at their distillery in Hacienda La Caravedo, in Ica, Peru.  Cheers!