Curt Thompson
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Q&A: Curt Thompson

A chat with the founder and executive director of Mimir Chamber Musical Festival, whose 21st season opens Tuesday at Texas Christian University.

published Monday, July 2, 2018

Photo: Albert Comper
Curt Thompson


Fort Worth — For two decades, the Mimir Chamber Music Festival has brought acclaimed local, national and international musicians to Texas Christian University every summer for some exciting performances and musicianship. In the early part of this decade, founder Curt Thompson moved to Australia, where he teaches, and founded a second Mimir there. He returns to Texas every summer for the Fort Worth edition.

This year the festival is shortened to just one week, with performances from July 3 to July 8. With exception of the final concert on July 8, performances are at TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall; the Sunday performance is at the Piano Pavilion auditorium in the Kimbell Art Museum.

TheaterJones chatted with Executive Director Curt Thompson to chat about this 21st season.


TheaterJones: Curt, thanks for joining me. The festival opens in less than two days. How busy has your weekend been?

Curt Thompson: It’s quite, quite busy, and made more difficult by the heat, but after 21 summers of doing this we have found a certain rhythm. We know where we are at, what we still have to do and what we have done already so it’s really exciting. We’re looking forward to setting this thing afloat in less than 24 hours. The opening night is on Tuesday night at PepsiCo Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. featuring a fabulous violinist, decorated Grammy Award nominee, former Channel model, and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Leila Josefowicz; we are so excited to have her here in Fort Worth with us.


What can audiences expect?

That is a unique concert experience. I have had the pleasure of hearing her before and it’s just dynamite. It’s a wonderful program that’s a mixture of pieces that the audience will certainly love. There’s the very dark Prokofiev first violin and piano sonata that’s opening the concert. She’s playing Road Movies by John Adams and the relationship with John Adams is quite an interesting one. The next time I will see her is in Melbourne, Australia, where she will be performing the Scheherazade.2. It’s a concerto written for her by John Adams, he’ll be conducting. That’s going to be really a lot of fun too, but in the meantime we’ll focus on what’s happening here in Fort Worth.


Photo: Courtesy
Leila Josefowicz

Her piano collaborator is John Novacek. What do chamber musicians look for in their musical collaborators?

John is an incredible artist I have to say and he’s been with me near for over 10 years and that’s really what made it possible to bring Leila is her connection with John. Anytime she plays a recital she’s playing it with John. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve met although you wouldn’t know it at first introduction; it’s a very dry sense of humor but it’s contagious and you can see it in his music. He’s a very good composer by the way. He’s had people like The 5 Browns [collaborate with him]; I think Diana Ross has hired him to do an arrangement. He’s been on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Kellior and the Late Show with Conan O’Brien. He’s just a dynamo of a musician. Whether it’s his own rags, which he’s fond of performing, or Prokofiev, you know it’s just a wide range of pieces and expertise. And I know why Leila loves playing with him because I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him several times myself.


So, part of Mimir’s purpose is to mentor young Emerging Artists.

That’s right and I think that’s one of the things that distinguishes the festival in what we do compared to other festivals in the Southwest. We are really a dual festival. We are a high-level summer series of chamber music concerts and in this case, in quite rapid succession, we have four professional concerts over a seven-day period. But in the midst of all that we are mentoring three pre-formed groups that literally come from all over the world. We have groups from Australia and the United States that have flown in for this sort of chamber music immersion where every day they’re getting two coachings from our artists and then at night if we’re not performing, they are performing. So, it’s a very intense experience. We’ve had wonderful kids over the years. Probably more than 300 pre-professional college age students have come through our program. And today some of those can be heard in the Pittsburgh Symphony or the Monaco Symphony, or some of them are having fantastic solo careers as well. Others are in professional chamber groups. So, it’s really been a wonderful educational experience for many kids over two decades.


It sounds like an incredible opportunity for both young artists and audiences.

That’s right and the audiences have really embraced not only the faculty concerts which obviously are the biggest draw that we’ve got but they’ve really been tuning out for the kids who are playing at a fantastic level. One of our groups a couple of years ago was the Silver Medalist in the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition to give your readers an idea of the quality that these kids have.


It’s been five years since Mimir has expanded its festival to Australia. How’s that been going?

That’s been quite an adventure of its own. And there are very few festivals that can boast [having] footprints not only on two continents but in two hemispheres. Melbourne is a fantastic city for chamber music. There is a famous international chamber music competition that is going on there right now actually. So, the audience is quite knowledgeable and supportive and has really embraced us over the last five years, and this next one will be our sixth iteration towards the end of August and the beginning of September. And we are taking the same crew from Fort Worth down to do these performances for them. It’s certainly a change from the hot summertime because we’ll be going to winter, but it’s been a lot of fun. I know the Mimir guys love to go down there.


In 2018, what relevance does classical music and chamber music specifically have for concert goers?

That’s a great question and it’s one that all arts organizations ask themselves, whether they’re symphonic or operatic or ballet. To start with, many of these pieces we’re playing are some of the most intimately conceived and labored compositions by these composers. For example, we have two songs written by Brahms as a wedding gift to his friend the violinist Joseph Joachim. That’s for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano. They are such beautiful pieces. You can really sense the love and the compassion and the respect that was put into a piece like that for example. We’ve got a piano quintet by Amy Beach, who is one of earliest great American female composers. Her career was a very interesting one. She was discouraged as a performer by her parents in spite the fact she debuted with the Boston Symphony when she was quite young. But she persevered and against the grain became one of the most important American composers of the 20th century. So, we’re pleased to hold her music up as an example of someone who really struggled to have the opportunity to be recognized.


That’s particularly relevant for 2018.

It is. I don’t want to overstate that thought but it was something we were considering. With everything going on in the world today to show some examples of positive things and things people achieved. Another example, we’re playing a string quartet by George Walker who is a living composer, an African American composer that we’re really happy to present. That’s a piece I’m sure that almost none of our audience will have heard. That will be at the Kimbell Museum’s Piano Pavilion on July 8 at 2 p.m. We’re really trying to program the season with a little bit of a context of what’s going on in our world. That wasn’t an accident. I hesitate to overstate those sorts of things because they can tend to become the central focus but it’s something we definitely thought about. There is a what we call a “fireside chat” before the concert at 1:20 p.m., which is a sort of Q&A with our audience.


Anything else you’d like readers of TheaterJones to know about your week of concerts?

People often ask us, “Well, which concerts should I go to?” and the answer is, “All of them.” And not just for self-serving reasons but because the architecture of the entire festival has been structured in such a way that it is a journey through the week. Many of our audience come to all of the concerts so they have the natural build and climax on the Sunday afternoon concert. So, come to all the concerts and you’ll have difficulty picking out which was your favorite in the end. But we’re really excited to have Leila on the opening night. It’s a really unique opportunity for audiences to get that close to her. She normally plays for thousands of people in a big concert hall.






7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU


Emerging Artists Master Class 

10:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 4

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU



7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 5

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU


Mimir Emerging Artists Concert

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 6

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU



7:30pm Saturday, July 7

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU



2 p.m. Sunday, July 8

Kimbell Art Museum, Piano Pavilion

 Thanks For Reading

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Q&A: Curt Thompson
A chat with the founder and executive director of Mimir Chamber Musical Festival, whose 21st season opens Tuesday at Texas Christian University.
by Rob Laney

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