Arts / Performing Arts

Iconic Texas Music Festival Reveals Ultra Ambitious 50th Anniversary Plans

And It’s All Taking Place in a Tiny Town of 93

BY Promoted Series Correspondent // 01.01.18

The first in a series unveils plans for a fabled anniversary season at the internationally acclaimed Round Top Festival Institute.

Watch for coming updates — including exclusive behind-the-scenes stories of the Tchaikovsky Competition-winning pianist who began Festival Hill, how his grand dream came to be heard round the world, the young musicians and their teachers who make Festival Hill a destination for 10,000 music lovers every summer, upcoming Golden Anniversary programming highlights, the remarkable gardens and historic homes and church preserved by Festival Hill, and how you can make a difference in supporting the premier music festival in Texas.

Just in: A Texas cultural treasure — which has its own Texas Senate proclamation to prove it — has unveiled plans for its upcoming 50th year. The golden anniversary of Round Top Festival Institute, christened “The Golden Age of Music,” includes not only a series of concerts staged in the summer of 2020, but a bold, nearly $13 million capital campaign for impressive initiatives that extend into 2021.

These grand fundraising plans benefit scholarships, historic preservation including the William Lockhart Clayton House, landscape architecture including Festival Hill’s fabled gardens, a generous endowment, a book to document its first half century, and perhaps its most urgent and greatest immediate need — the completion of a $1.6 million Ensemble Center ensuring practice rooms for young musicians.

After all, this is the festival where an 18-year old Yo-Yo Ma stepped on stage in 1977, as one of Festival Hill’s first scholarship recipients.

Promisingly, the Herzstein Foundation has already stepped up with a lead grant towards the Ensemble Center. When completed, the new center will be multi-functional, including use as a conference center, generating rental revenue for decades to come. Festival Hill is now inviting individuals to donate so its brilliant young musicians have the facilities they need to prepare for concert performances.

Music acolytes in Texas, nationally, and internationally know of the Round Top Festival Institute, founded in the summer of 1971 by James Dick, a protégé of Ima Hogg and University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus, who was a major prize winner in the piano competition to end all, the International Tchaikovsky. (Texas’ other celebrated Tchaikovsky winner was Van Cliburn.)

While James Dick’s vision for Festival Hill has flourished to blossom into its present incantation — a 210-acre campus valued at $23 million, drawing 40,000 visitors annually, and a prime role as the biggest employer in the Round Top area — there’s an entire new generation of classical music lovers who have never yet experienced the breathtaking beauty of Festival Hill and its rich musical programming.

Round Top Festival Institute’s handsomely preserved Menke House serves as a dining hall for its staff, instructors, and young musicians on scholarship.

One of the most striking venues in the U.S., Festival Concert Hall features hand-hewn timbers arrayed in arresting geometric patterns testifying to the skill of this rural area’s traditional woodworkers. With 1,000-seats, the hall is intimate as well as warm and dramatic. It evokes the 19th century, yet possesses acoustics and sight lines that are modern and exemplary.

But it is what happens on stage that is most extraordinary, with diverse, world-class programming — marimba to Mozart — and as of the last 20 years, a season that features 50 performances throughout the year.

Its juried young musicians, some 100 in number annually, each receive $6,000 donated scholarships to Festival Hill’s intensive six-week summer performance sessions. The gifted players are in turn taught by 50 illustrious, visiting faculty gleaned from universities, conservatories, and orchestras worldwide.

Festival Hill alum, who represent a United Nations of musicians, receive performance experience, training, and mentorship comparable to two years of university-level instruction — all within the bucolic setting of Round Top, Texas, where they are comfortably housed at the music institute’s campus, sharing meals at a cozy communal dining hall within the 1902-era Menke House.

The greatest measure of Festival Hill’s success, besides its loyal audience, are these notable alums. The program’s graduates currently may be heard on six continents, gracing the stages and performing with orchestras from the New York Philharmonic to the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., and the Guildhall School of London.

To give to Festival Hill’s Golden Age of Music Campaign, contribute to one of Texas’ most extraordinary cultural treasures, and ensure that tomorrow’s classical talents rehearse in a state-of-the-art Ensemble Center, donate here. Be one of the Texans who makes it happen, and be part of the next 50 years for Festival Hill.

Lynn Zarr, JR - Martha Turner Sotheby's

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