A jewel box called the Rosette opens as a new Austin performing arts venue
Austin keeps adding arts venues.
The latest is called the Rosette. Carved out of a former gym at the old Baker School in Hyde Park, it is home to Austin Classical Guitar.
As experienced on March 5 during the group's "Dreams and Wonders" concert, this intimate hall is a jewel box.
The site comes with plenty of history. In 1856, Texas State Lunatic Asylum, progressive for its time, opened right across the street from here. Its original Greek Revival building still stands as part of the Texas State Hospital complex.
During the 1880s, the Texas State Fair was held on these wooded prairies. A racetrack circled nearby. During the 1890s, a recreational lake for the new Hyde Park neighborhood, fed by the headwaters of Waller Creek's western branch, filled this particular site.
Located at 3908 Avenue B, the Baker School was built in 1911. It replaced the lake and rises a dignified three stories.
To enter the Rosette, park on the West 40th Street side of what is now called the Baker Center and follow a marked path to the venue's doors on the first floor.
The venerable building now belongs to Tim and Karrie League of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema fame. Their company occupies the second floor, while the duo envisions even more community functions for the first floor, now plastered with movie posters and populated by fake schoolchildren — a little spooky.
Besides the Rosette, a cafetorium on the same floor serves as a rehearsal hall for Conspirare, Austin's Grammy-winning choir. It's in pretty good shape and would make a cool performance venue, too, with some retooling.
The Rosette, named for the ornate mosaic that surrounds the sound hole of every classical guitar, is already a masterpiece of warm sound. It seats 85 on two levels. The lower seats arc around a half-moon-shaped stage perfect for chamber music and, one could imagine after this guitar concert, flamenco dancing, as well.
"Dreams and Wonders" starred Matthew Hinsley, the group's visionary executive director, who has steered its efforts toward public service as a classical guitar educator admired around the world. Wearing shimmery floral slippers that stole a bit of focus, the open, cheerful artist played on a stage outfitted with seven microphones. All of them were used to deepen the sound for a series of dreamy, wondery numbers.
Hinsley likes to mash up music. A traditional Scottish tune teamed with a Bach cello suite; "Evocación" by José Luis Merlin paired with "Fantasia" by Merlin's contemporary Sylvius Leopold Weiss. Hinsley premiered "The Rosette," a rhythmically fanciful piece that he based on a theme produced by one of the group's teachers. He dedicated it to Tim and Karrie League, Hinsley's longtime friends and creative collaborators.
The grand finale included two other performers for five numbers: William Flores, a former guitar student at McCallum High School who has been playing in military bands and now sits on the nonprofit's board, and Bouchra Hachem, a Lebanese American singer whose rich, plaintive voice applied singular phrasing to familiar works such as "La Vie en Rose" and rare selections, like a heartbreaking song about her homeland, "Li Beirut."
The Rosette is a welcome new home for the arts in Austin and not just for the classical guitar group.
"Our space includes not only the theater, but also offices, education and gathering spaces," Hinsley says, "and access to large indoor and outdoor spaces that will allow for significant growth and variety in our programming. Within the theater, we have installed sound, light and video capabilities that will enable not only livestreaming, but growth in our recording services for students and community members in our programs, as well as multimedia art projects.
"We’re still working out usage details," he adds, "but other arts organizations will use it, for sure."
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.