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Fredericksburg music lovers will hear the world premiere of The Golden Ax, an Aesop fable turned into a family-friendly mini-opera to be performed this Friday as part of the Cactus Pear Music Festival. Artwork by Gary Albright

The Cactus Pear Music Festival comes back to Fredericksburg on Friday, July 18, with two performances at the Theater on Highway 87 South.

At 3:00 pm is the Family Concert: An Aesop Fable plus marimba and woodwinds. At 7:00 pm is The Golden Ax...and other Striking Pieces: a dramatic mini-opera based on an Aesop fable, along with Mozart: Quintet in E flat, K.452; Poulenc: Sextet; Colgrass: Hammer and Bow: A Fantasy for violin and marimba.

For tickets and information: call 888-669-7114, visit 306 E. Austin St., Fredericksburg, Texas 78624, or on the web at www.fredericksburgtheater.org, and www.cpmf.us

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phil@ fullhouseproductions.net.

webmaster: phil@fullhouseproductions.net

The Golden Ax... and other Striking Pieces

by Phil Houseal
July 16, 2008


Gifted composers need not look far for inspiration. Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio and Gary Albright found it while reading bedtime stories to their two daughters.

They took a simple fable and turned it into a mini-opera and the basis for a family friendly concert, coming to Fredericksburg this Friday as part of the Cactus Pear Music Festival.

This tale began several years ago as Sant'Ambrogio was reading the Three Billie Goats Gruff. In the middle of "trip trap trip trapping" for the umpteenth time, she realized it would make the perfect story to illustrate the string family. The three voices of the progressively larger goats matched the timbre of violin, viola, and cello, with the troll's voice channeled by double bass.

The creative couple now has completed their third children's piece - The Golden Ax, based on an Aesop fable. This original work makes its world premiere in Fredericksburg.

"It's a fable about honesty, basically," Sant'Ambrogio said. "Gary, who is a very good writer, took the story I was reading to the girls and made it into a rhyming libretto. He gave the libretto to David Heuser - a composer and instructor at the University of Texas at San Antonio - with the only instruction being that it was to be a woodwind quintet."

Sant'Ambrogio promises that the first performance "will be quite special." It includes pieces by Mozart and Poulenc, educational demonstrations, and a fun series of folksongs for violin and marimba.

"Most kids probably have never seen a full-size marimba," she said. "Each season we try to add something extra for the ticket price. Gary says to expect the unexpected."

Sant'Ambrogio is an accomplished and acclaimed violinist, who was concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony for 13 years. She is now Assistant Professor of Violin & Viola at the University of Nevada at Reno, but returned for this summer music festival that she conceived in 1996.

The popular annual event has become a satisfying way to spread the inspiration and joy she feels for classical music to those who may not otherwise be exposed to it. In fact the mission statement for the Cactus Pear Music Festival is to present and produce great chamber music for people of all ages, while contributing to the musical education of South Texas youth.

"I have my own children, and I feel classical music can be an acquired taste," she said. "As a child I was gently introduced to masterpieces of classical music. Because of that early exposure, I love classical music. I find it uplifting, nurturing, exciting, and deeply satisfying. Kids these days don't always get to hear great music. I want to reach out. It is a wonderful and joyous thing to have in one's life."

These classics are not just for kids. Sant'Ambrogio wants the whole family to come out.

"It will be a night to remember, and you won't want to miss it," she said. "When our upcoming CD wins a Grammy, you can say you heard it at its world premiere! It will refresh your spirit and uplift your souls. I guarantee it."