Aperio: Music of the Americas Founder

Clear the way for chamber music's superhero: Zuraw, The Music Protector is here to save the notes

Clear the way for chamber music's superhero: Zuraw, The Music Protector is here to save the notes

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Michael Zuraw, pianist and founder, Aperio, Music of the Americas... Photo by Eric Hester
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...believes all music is endangered if it's not performed. Courtesy of Aperio, Music of the Americas
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Clarinetist Michael Michael Norsworthy address the audience at a The Menil Collection’s Cy Twombly Gallery. Courtesy of Aperio, Music of the Americas
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Percussionist Craig Hauschildt performing on clay pots.   Courtesy of Aperio, Music of the Americas
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The quilting world has The Fabric Enforcer and his sidekick Bobbin Boy. Smokey the Bear knows that only you can prevent wildfires. Environmental justice has Happy Feet, the vocally-challenged animated penguin. 

And chamber music, especially that which stems from South American traditions, has its own superhero: Michael Zuraw — let's call him The Music Protector.

Yet the pianist and Aperio: Music of the Americas founder doesn't think of himself as the great avenger, even if his sole benevolent efforts are to protect the works of pivotal South American composers from extinction. It's enigmatic to ponder how music can indeed cease to exist. Yet, the state of affairs with music publishing by our the neighbors to the south is troublesome, leaving many precious manuscripts and music scores in danger of disappearing from public access.

 "There is a place in heaven for anyone that pursues cultural interests in today's economic climate," Zuraw jokes. "I hope that's me one day." 

"Aperio is about restoring music, to have your ears opened up," Zuraw says. "At the same time, it is dedicated to the North and South American dialogue. Each tradition can stand on its own, but it's fascinating to learn how they've influenced each other. It's a way to create context for composers we know, and learn about those we don't."

For his next concert set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Station Museum of Contemporary Art titled "On Vibrate: Pop and Post-minimalism in American Music," Zuraw has programmed an evening that captures the spirit of the post-minimalist music scene with works of Michael Torke, Kevin Puts and Carter Pann. The compositions comment on popular music, art music, technology and their intersections.

"This program is quintessentially American," Zuraw says. "The music of these composers is very accessible, yet it is music of the highest order using language in popular culture in an elevated way."

Michael Torke's Blue Pacific is, in essence, an eight-minute virtuoso pop song. Carter Pann's catalogs popular styles, showing how dance and popular songs can be set against something more traditional. In Torke's In Manhattan — performed by the Quartus Chamber Players — pop styles are minimalized employing coloristic effects. 

"The best way to ensure music doesn't disappear is by performing it," Zuraw says. "All music is endangered unless it is heard."

Think of Aperio as a small nonprofit, now in its sixth season, that curates intimate concerts during which musicians address the audience, performing at galleries, museums, churches — quaint venues ideal for opening up conversation.

"Think of Franz Liszt," Zuraw proposes. "He was crowded by people when he performed. I prefer my concerts to have the same close connection between musicians and audience. I believe it's the best way of relating to the art form, to the musicians and to the listeners."

Mission Finds Him

The Chicago-born virtuoso found his way to Houston in his quest for higher education in 1996, pursuing a Doctorate of Musical Arts at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. After finding a spot teaching at St. John's, it was a fundraising concert benefiting Casa Argentina that propelled Zuraw's path into awakening the dormant music of pivotal composers, some that carry their region's ethos, others that were influenced by it.  

Zuraw's Czech/Polish background doesn't have direct nor ancestral ties to South American traditions — other than his Venezuelan partner. It is his obsession with finding cross-cultural influences that extended his interest beyond this initial concert. The founding of Aperio — aptly derived from Latin, meaning to uncover, to open — happened organically. 

Future projects include a premiere recording of works by Thomas Osborne, whose music comments on multicultural fusion. Zuraw sees it as a big undertaking. Given the rapid changes in the recording and music industry, he's decided it's best to tackle it in the next couple of seasons. An Osborne commission will be performed in Aperio's concert at Rothko Chapel set for May 12. 

Amidst stories of trying to track down the music of Carlos Guastavino in Puerto Rico, learning that the University of Texas at Austin has an extensive collection of Latin American music scores and finding creative ways to bring in cash, it's apparent that licking stamps, stuffing envelopes and grunge work in general, is not beneath this pianist. 

"There is a place in heaven for anyone that pursues cultural interests in today's economic climate," Zuraw jokes. "I hope that's me one day."