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Photos from 33 VARIATIONS

January 25th, 2013 No comments

Beth Broderick and Anton Nel star in ZACH’s 33 VARIATIONS, now live on stage at ZACH Theatre. Below are photos from ZACH’s production, currently playing in the new Topfer Theatre. Feel free to share these photos, but be sure to credit Kirk Tuck wherever they appear.

Get 33 VARIATIONS tickets at zachtheatre.org or call ZACH’s box office at (512) 476-0541, x1.

A TRU(e) Texas Treasure

January 24th, 2013 1 comment
Jaston Williams in TRU at ZACH Theatre

Jaston Williams in TRU at ZACH Theatre

ZACH Theatre fans know that actor Jaston Williams is an acting treasure.  Now, the Texas Cultural Trust will honor the home-grown thespian, currently starring in the play Tru on ZACH’s Whisenhunt Theatre stage, with the 2013 Texas Medal of the Arts.

Williams will be awarded – along with his Greater Tuna series co-star, Joe Sears – the “Theatre Award” at a gala dinner on March 4th at The Long Center for the Performing Arts.  Other 2013 honorees include  “Desperate Housewives” actor Ricardo Chavira, sculptor James Surls, the Houston Ballet and musician Steve Miller.

Established in 1995, the biennial Texas Medal of Arts Awards honor artists, entertainers and arts patrons who have achieved greatness through their creative talents and support of the arts.  Previous Austin-area honorees have included Ray Benson, ZZ Top, Robert Rodriguez, Austin City Limits, Willie Nelson, and Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long.  For more information, visit www.TXCulturalTrust.org.

Tickets to TRU can be purchased at zachtheatre.org, or by phone at (512) 476-0541, x1.

Truman Capote: The Rise and Fall of a Superstar

January 23rd, 2013 No comments
Truman Capote, photo by Harold Halma

Truman Capote, photo by Harold Halma

When Truman Capote published his landmark “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood in 1966, he was already a celebrated writer and raconteur of more than two decades. But that celebrated work would prove to be his last masterpiece, and his fame became infamy as he spiraled downward through years of alcoholism, drug use and social abandonment.

The tour de force play Tru by Jay Presson Allen – and starring Jaston Williams – finds Capote in his New York City apartment at 870 United Nations Plaza, a social outcast who whiles away the hours comforted by his memories, treasures and an endless supply of pills, vodka and chocolate. The audience is treated to an intimate performance of the desperate final act of a superstar’s life and career.

Born Truman Streckfus Persons, Capote changed his name – through his mother’s second marriage – and his persona to fit what he believed was his destiny: to be famous. His first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, published in 1948 when Capote was 24 years old, catapulted him to stardom. The controversial novel was made even more salacious by the accompanying dust jacket photo of the young author, which caused as much comment and controversy as the prose inside.

Many people viewed the pose as suggestive, creating a promotional frenzy around Capote. According to Gerald Clarke, who wrote Capote: A Biography (1988), the famous photograph and the uproar is created gave Capote “not only the literary, but also the public personality he had always wanted.” The photo made a huge impression on the then 20-year-old Andy Warhol, who often talked about the picture and wrote fan letters to Capote.

Capote’s success was amplified in the following years with his writings for Broadway and film, the novellas Breakfast at Tiffany’s and A Christmas Memory, and the international bestseller In Cold Blood. He was at the pinnacle of his talent and capitalized on his celebrity by hob-nobbing through the social circles of New York, Hollywood and Europe.

Capote became a member of the jet set and spent the rest of his life exploiting his friendships and clinging to his diminishing celebrity. His legendary Black and White Ball at New York City’s Plaza Hotel in 1966 was viewed as “the social events of the decade,” and the much-coveted invitations quickly dictated who was socially “in” or “out.”

But creative setbacks and the toll of writing In Cold Blood reduced Capote to a talk-show circuit regular and a lisping caricature of his former self. Digging into such dark territory for his most famous novel had taken a toll on him psychologically and physically, and Capote began drinking more and started taking tranquilizers to soothe his frayed nerves – and his substance abuse problems quickly escalated.

But his Lindsay Lohan moment of social suicide came with the serialized publication in 1976 by Esquire magazine of his gossipy, unfinished novel Answered Prayers. The same society friends that flocked to his Black and White Ball were now being drug through the mud – some under pseudonyms and others by their real names – in thinly-veiled accounts of their own dirty little secrets. The elite turned against him viciously, and his days of celebrity and acceptance were over.

Tru continues through March 10th, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID).

To order tickets, call 512-476-0541 ext. 1, or visit www.zachtheatre.org. ZACH’s full bar in the new Topfer Theatre – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.

The Mystery of the Diabelli Variations

January 22nd, 2013 No comments
Anton Diabelli, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber

Anton Diabelli, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber

In 1819, the Viennese music publisher Anton Diabelli wrote a simple waltz and sent it to 50 of his composer contemporaries, asking each to contribute a variation. They all agreed, except for one, Ludwig van Beethoven, who dismissed the trifle of a piece – which could have been taken for a beer hall dance – as a “cobbler’s patch.”

But then Beethoven became obsessed with Diabelli’s waltz, and ended up writing 33 different variations that constitute Opus 120, his most ambitious piece for piano. Why he did it is the question that haunts Dr. Katherine Brandt in the award-winning Broadway play 33 Variations by playwright Moisés Kaufman, making its Texas debut at ZACH Theatre.

At the heart of 33 Variations is Beethoven’s eponymous Diabelli Variations. How the lauded work came to exist is not only a driving theme of play, but also a bit of music history legend.

Diabelli was trying to generate publicity for his new firm, Cappi & Diabelli, and came up with the invitation to popular composers living in Austria as a savvy promotional project.  His intention was to publish the theme and variations as a collection – patriotically titled Vaterländischer Künstlerverein, or “Native Society of Artists” – and to use the profits to benefit orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars.

The challenge of composing a variation based on the melody was accepted by composers who are mere footnotes today, such as Hieronymus Payer and Ignaz Umlauf, along with heavy hitters that included Schubert, Czerny and the 11-year-old Liszt.  Notably absent, at first, was Beethoven.

According to the composer Anton Schindler, who became Beethoven’s secretary and biographer, Beethoven initially disdained the waltz.  But after looking more carefully, he found it oddly captivating.

Before the year was out, Beethoven had composed 23 wildly diverse variations on the theme.  Then he set it aside, evidently having lost interest, and turned to other projects.

Then in late 1822 and early 1823, Beethoven composed 10 more variations. The result was the Diabelli Variations.  The composer’s approach to the theme was to take some of its smallest elements – the opening turn, the descending fourth and fifth, the repeated notes – and build upon them to create pieces of great imagination, power and subtlety.

Many scholars consider the Diabelli Variations to be Beethoven’s most adventurous work.  The music writer Donald Tovey called it “the greatest set of variations ever written,” and pianist Alfred Brendel has described the work as “the greatest of all piano works.”

The reasons Beethoven changed his mind about Diabelli’s composition are still up for debate.  One legend says that, upon learning that Diabelli would pay a handsome price for a full set of variations from him, Beethoven changed his mind and decided to show how much could be done with such slim materials.  In another version of the legend, Beethoven was so insulted at being asked to work with material he considered beneath him that he wrote 33 variations to demonstrate his prowess.  The real answer is what the play’s protagonist seeks to discover.  And in the process, she discovers much more about her own life.

Performances of 33 Variations continue through February 17th on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.  To order tickets call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org.

Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID). ZACH’s full bar – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.

Full Circle: Anton Nel plays Beethoven’s 33 VARIATIONS at ZACH Theatre

January 18th, 2013 No comments
Pianist Anton Nel

Pianist Anton Nel

World-renown concert pianist Anton Nel – winner of the first prize in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition at Carnegie Hall – doesn’t consider himself a child prodigy.  That despite the fact that he made his auspicious professional debut at the age of 12 with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “C Major Concerto” with his country’s premier ensemble, the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, after only two years of piano studies.

In a major coup for Central Texas audiences, Anton Nel will perform Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations live on stage to complement the drama of the award-winning Broadway play 33 Variations, making its Texas debut at ZACH’s new Topfer Theatre from January 23rd through February 17th.   Starring television star Beth Broderick, the play by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project, I Am My Own Wife) simultaneously examines the adventure behind Beethoven’s creation of his Diabelli Variations and the world of a modern-day musicologist trying to uncover the mysteries of the work while her own life unravels around her.

World-renowned concert pianist Anton Nel plays Beethoven's 33 Variations of Diabelli's work in ZACH Theatre's production

World-renowned concert pianist Anton Nel plays Beethoven's 33 Variations of Diabelli's work in ZACH Theatre's production

Like Beethoven, Nel displayed his musical talents at an early age and quickly became known as a virtuoso pianist.  A Johannesburg native born into a musical family, Nel captured first prizes in all the major South African competitions while still in his teens, toured his native country extensively and became a well-known radio and television personality.  In a 2005 Austin Chronicle article by Austin composer Graham Reynolds, Nel’s lineage connection to Beethoven was laid out even more succinctly:

“Anton Nel belongs to one of the most famous lines of pianists ever. Nel’s teacher was South African virtuoso Adolph Hallis, who was taught by the most famous of the Romantic piano teachers, Theodor Leschetizky, who in turn was taught by Carl Czerny, a pedagogue whose studies most piano students still play today. Czerny was taught by none other than Ludwig van Beethoven, who for his part was taught by Mozart’s composer friend, and rival, Joseph Haydn.”

Today, Nel continues a multifaceted career that has taken him to North and South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa.  His nearly four decades of concert appearances include performances with the symphonies of Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit and London, among many others.  His recitals have played at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection in New York, at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, Davies Hall in San Francisco, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  Internationally he has performed recitals in major concert halls in Canada, England, France, Holland, Japan, Korea and South Africa.

An acclaimed Beethoven interpreter, Nel has an active repertoire of more than 100 works for piano and orchestra and has performed the entire Beethoven concerto cycle several times – most notably on two consecutive evenings with the Cape Philharmonic in 2005.  In addition to world premiering works by living composers, he was also chosen to give the North American premiere of the newly discovered “Piano Concerto No. 3 in E Minor” by Felix Mendelssohn in 1992.

The New York Times says Anton Nel is "an uncommonly elegant pianist."

The New York Times says Anton Nel is "an uncommonly elegant pianist."

His recordings include four solo CDs, several chamber music recordings – including the complete Beethoven Piano and Cello Sonatas and Variations, and the Brahms Sonatas, with Bion Tsang – and works for piano and orchestra by Franck, Faure and Saint-Saens. Anton Nel became a citizen of the United States of America on September 11, 2003, and in January 2010, he became the first holder of the new Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Piano at the University of Texas at Austin – where after 20 years as a professor he continues to teach an international class of students and the head of the Division of Keyboard Studies.

Interestingly, Nel started sharing his knowledge as a music professor exactly 200 years after Beethoven first started sharing his, by publishing his first composition at the age of 12 – the same age as when Nel made his performance debut.  That first published composition by Beethoven was a set of keyboard variations.

ZACH Theatre’s production of 33 Variations previews January 23rd through 30th.  Champagne Opening and Press Night is Thursday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a reception with the stars of show.  The GLBT Wilde Party with pre-show mixer is Thursday, January 24th.

Performances continue through February 17th on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.  To order tickets call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org.

Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID). ZACH’s full bar – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.

About the Play: 33 VARIATIONS at ZACH Theatre

January 15th, 2013 No comments
33 VARIATIONS at ZACH Theatre

33 VARIATIONS at ZACH Theatre

Inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s eponymous work, the Diabelli Variations, playwright Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project, I Am My Own Wife) penned the hit Broadway play 33 Variations, which makes its Texas debut this month at ZACH Theatre. Featuring an all-star cast headed by Beth Broderick (from TV’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and featuring world-renown concert pianist Anton Nel, the Tony Award-winning play simultaneously examines the creative process behind Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and the world of a musicologist trying to repair a difficult relationship with her daughter.

Broderick plays Katherine Brandt, the music scholar on a mission to discover the meaning behind why Beethoven was compelled to write 33 distinct variations on a simple theme by a nobody music publisher named Anton Diabelli. At the same time, Kaufman’s play focuses on the last four years of the composer’s peripatetic life, when he was obsessed with writing variations of a theme composed by Diabelli. The progression of Katherine’s Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” – is juxtaposed with Beethoven’s growing deafness as she struggles to use her dwindling remaining time to finish her thesis about the composer.

33 VARIATIONS with Beth Broderick and Anton Nel, Photo by Kirk Tuck

33 VARIATIONS with Beth Broderick and Anton Nel, Photo by Kirk Tuck

In her attempt to find understand why Beethoven – losing his hearing and in ill health – would write not one, but 33 different variations on the theme by Diabelli during a four year period, Katherine travels to Germany to research the archives of the composer in his hometown of Bonn. Via flashbacks, Beethoven and Brandt both struggle in their goals while rapidly running out of time.

The action takes place both in Beethoven’s time and the present, switching back and forth between the two. But as certain key points, characters from both time periods appear on stage to deliver lines simultaneously, emphasizing the parallels between the journeys of both sets of characters. And then of course, there is the music.

Having performed in concert halls across the globe and guest starred with practically every major symphony, concert pianist Anton Nel takes to the Topfer Theatre stage to perform the Diabelli Variations as they intertwine with the action of 33 Variations. His numerous recordings include the complete Beethoven Piano and Cello Sonatas and Variations, and the Brahms Sonatas, with Bion Tsang, so Austin audience will be treated to an exciting performance from a true Beethoven aficionado.

33 Variations previews January 23rd through 30th. Champagne Opening and Press Night is Thursday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a reception with the stars of show. The GLBT Wilde Party with pre-show mixer is Thursday, January 24th.

Performances continue through February 17th on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. To order tickets call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org/show/33-variations.

Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID). ZACH’s full bar – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.

Photo Gallery: ZACH’s WHITE CHRISTMAS

December 12th, 2012 No comments

Photographer Kirk Tuck captured these beautiful photos from ZACH Theatre’s production of WHITE CHRISTMAS. Feel free to share these photos, but please credit Kirk wherever they appear.

Tickets and show info at http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/white-christmas

Photos from RAGTIME

October 24th, 2012 2 comments

Thanks to photographer Kirk Tuck for these great shots from ZACH’s production of RAGTIME! Feel free to share these photos, but please remember to credit Kirk Tuck wherever they appear …

RAGTIME plays through November 18th as the inaugural production in ZACH’s Topfer Theatre. For tickets, show information and more, please visit zachtheatre.org.

New Photos from ZACH’s Opening Gala

October 9th, 2012 No comments

Thanks to Jerry Hayes for these great photos of ZACH Theatre’s Topfer Opening Gala on Thursday, Sept. 27th.

For more Topfer Opening Gala photos, please visit The Bernadette Peters Opening Gala Gallery and The Brian Stokes Mitchell Opening Celebration Gallery.

Please credit Jerry Hayes wherever you share these photos.

ZACH’s Topfer Theatre Opening Celebration with Brian Stokes Mitchell

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Thank you to everyone who helped in any way to make the dream of the Topfer Theatre a reality. Images below are from the Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012 Opening Gala and campus-wide celebration with Brian Stokes Mitchell. Pictures are courtesy of Tony Spielberg – please feel free to share the photos but credit Tony wherever they appear.