Music is the Key: First piano festival held this weekend

Published 7:03 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The MacPhail Center for Music-Austin will be hosting the first-ever Austin Piano Festival from Oct. 7-9 featuring former owner of the Austin Symphony Orchestra’s Fazioli 308 concert grand piano and former MacPhail teacher Victoria El-Sabo and Samantha Sinai.

The event, which organizers hope will be a twice-a-year event, will feature concerts along with masterclasses and workshops for students and teachers.

The three-day event will take place at MacPhail and Austin High School’s Knowlton Auditorium.

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“We have this beautiful piano here in Austin,” said site director Cheryl Berglund. “But more importantly, it will gather piano students in the community and larger — it’s open to Minnesota — just to celebrate the piano. This is just a key learning experience.”

Having a piano festival, like the one MacPhail will host, is an opportunity to celebrate not only the Fazioli, but the piano in general as well as show off the beauty of music.

“To me it’s a great genesis for music,” Berglund said. “You can touch the music and see the music and  watch your fingers.”

The masterclasses will consist of students playing the compositions of El-Sabo, who will walk them through their performance and provide thoughts on how she composes. Meanwhile, the teacher workshops foster creativity for students and resources for teachers to help students learn compositions.

“Let’s talk about why and how it came to these,” Berglund said of the compositions.

El-Sabo and Sinai will be performing an informal show, “It’s Amusing” from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8 and the more formal show, Spotlight on the Big Faz Concert, is at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9. Sunday’s show will be at Knowlton Auditorium. Tickets are $20 for Sunday’s show.

Both shows will feature original compositions by the duo performed on piano, cello, voice and elk-skin drum.

At the same time, an Austin children’s chorus, featuring singers from IJ Holton and other community members will perform along with two of El-Sabo’s compositions in the Sunday show.

While highlighting the instrument of the piano with this first ever festival, Berglund also said that it’s important just having these two artists in house for kids and teachers alike.

“They’re amazing performers, but what really helps in this instance is they are really human with teacher qualities and can explain to these students,” she said. “They were once beginners or at intermediate levels.”

Case in point is El-Sabo’s learning of the elk-skin drum, something she’s just started playing.

“In fact, Victoria is now studying other instruments and she’s bringing a drum along with her that she’s brand new too. At any age you can learn something new.”

This annual Piano Festival is also once again highlighting the music opportunities in Austin.

“I think it’s great with the resources,” Berglund said. “Having this MacPhail and Austin Public Schools partnership has allowed us to be a central hub for music in Austin. It fosters excitement.”

One of the more exciting aspects of the festival is indeed that future promise. Berglund said that she hopes that the festival can not only continue strong into the future, but perhaps be a jumping off point for other opportunities including a jazz-focused festival next April.

“We have a second event in April and we plan to have these festivals twice a year,” Berglund said. “We plan to showcase other genres in music. We just want to gather the community and show them our building and the beautiful Knowlton Auditorium  is a resource and open to other opportunities.”

For more information on the workshops and classes as well as buying tickets, visit: