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En train – literally

Your fearless blogger has indeed dared a train ride, but a very special one.  This was the Rocky Mountaineer which slithers sensuously through Canada’s snow fields, glaciers and, oh yeah, mountains.  Ten days of ooh-ing and ah-ing at gorgeous scenery, bears, elk and big horn sheep, but nearly spoiled by music, of all things.

Now I want you to understand that I am not a snob and can usually get along with just about anyone.  With that proviso in mind, also note that a cluster of really drunk Aussies can spoil even the most magnificent scenery (my fault for not have noise abatement equipment – but it never occurred to me I might need it on a train, of all things).  So here’s the story:

Cruising along in quiet – no train noise at all (remember this is Canadian Pacific, not Amtrak) – seated in a very comfortable, heated seat (no, really) with a glass of Canada’s Okanagan wine on the tray table, we are watching eagles and osprey enjoying themselves dipping and swooping above us and various ungulates grazing calmly on mountainsides, seemingly unaware that one misstep would spell disaster and totally nonplused by the train.  Occasionally, we descend to the dining car and you know what they say about train food:  fattening and utterly delicious.  Blueberry pancakes made with fresh berries, salmon that the day before was leaping in the frigid river.  Does it get any better?

Ten days of ooh-ing and ah-ing at gorgeous scenery, bears, elk and big horn sheep, but nearly spoiled by music, of all things.

Enter the Aussies.  They seem to have collectively decided to drink themselves blind drunk.  They counted up 29 empty bottles of Bailey’s Irish Cream, and there were only about ten of them.  Do the math.  So what does a group of drunken Aussies do when they’re feeling their spirits?  They sing, of course.  And what do they sing?  Waltzing Matilda, of course.  Over and over and over.  I was reminded of a long-ago account of Panamanian ex-dictator, Manuel Noriega, who was held in a prison in Panama City.  He was in solitary confinement and his captors ardently wished to have information about some drug smuggling he’d been engaged in.  No luck: he wasn’t talking.  So he received piped-in music.   He was bombarded with screeching sounds of some long-forgotten grunge rockers, played over and over again.  He cracked.  Such is the power of music!

Well, it was still a memorable trip and I really hope that none of our traveling companions went overboard on their subsequent Alaska cruise (or were put out on a glacier to reprieve Waltzing Matilda).  As we went along, I thought of the wonderful music of Sibelius and Grieg.  They who were accustomed to snow and glaciers and could transcribe this scenery into immortal music.  And now that we’re back in good ol’ H&H (that’s hot and humid) Texas, I think I’ll put the mostly magical train trip in my memory bank and turn my attention to anticipation of a truly sterling set of performances I will thoroughly enjoy come SACMS’ silver anniversary season.  Please do look at the web site, SACMS.org, to see the wonders in store.  If you should hear any faint strains of Waltzing Matilda, just have a nice glass of wine and ignore the Philistines.

– E Doyle

The Moment

Everyone who has ever attended a symphony performance has experienced it:  that crystal moment that quivers in the air right after the house lights dim and just before the conductor walks on stage.  It’s a moment of anticipation, it is delicious.  A few people are still chattering, but for the most part, everyone is quiet, focused on the stage and the musicians.  The musicians may be running the first bars of the music through their minds, thinking about the sounds they are about to produce.  Do you know the first selection to be performed?  If so, you too may be running the melody through your mind in glorious anticipation of what you are about to hear; if not, you may feel the expectation that you will hear music that will open your mind and create an emotional response.  The maestro arrives, picks up his baton; instruments come to shoulders, chins, lips and there is a collective response from the audience.  Some sit forward, straining to see; some relax back into their seats, awaiting that first wonderful measure.   Every performance is the same.  Every performance is unique.

And then there is the moment just before a performance of chamber music – so different from an orchestral performance.  Three or four or five musicians walk onto the stage, arrange their music stands, perhaps tune their instruments to one another – and then it happens:  the moment of anticipation, of the sure confidence that you are about to hear magic.  Symphonic musicians read a score; chamber musicians read one another’s mind.  You know that from this small group you are about to hear sounds that will evoke a smile as a familiar sonata is performed or that will astonish you with the fresh air of new music.

Symphonic musicians read a score; chamber musicians read one another’s mind.

We often talk about conversations among musicians as they perform.  For orchestral musicians, the conversation occurs between sections – the violins pick up the cellos’ theme, the horns echo the strings.  For chamber musicians, each one is precisely attuned to the other.  You could call it a “neat trick,” but actually it represents hours and hours of practice, of listening to one another and adding just the right color with his instrument, be it voice, viola, piano or clarinet.  Chamber musicians must develop an intuitive knowledge of musical emotions and then be able to express this knowledge at the right moment.

It has been our great pleasure to enchant you with remarkable music this season.  We have been performing magic for 74 years, but the musicians and music we present are fresh, memorable and thoroughly enjoyable.  As for me, I love that wonderful moment of anticipation just before a concert begins.  It is a privilege to bring you these great performances, to enhance the cultural life of our city and to provide our audiences with those special moments.

Now, just wait until you hear the 75th season:

Pacifica Quartet with Sharon Isbin, guitar – October 15, 2017
Rebel Baroque with Matthias Maute, flute – November 12, 2017
Chanticleer – January 21, 2018
American Brass Quintet – March 4, 2018
Orion String Quartet – April 15, 2018

– E Doyle

Calmus Ensemble Outreach Event

Calmus Ensemble Outreach at Madison High School on April 24, 2017

On April 24, 2017 the amazing vocal group Calmus Ensemble from Leipzig, gave a beautiful private performance for 40 lucky choral students at Madison High School. The group sang a quite different program at Madison than the program on our formal series at Temple BethEl. Their program included a work by Bach, an intricate and complex fugue, a work by Queen (the rock group), and a very humorous ditty that included some comedy material involving a triangle played by two people. The students rose to their feet in a spontaneous ovation at the end of the concert.

This was our last Outreach Event for the 2017-18 season. SACMS is pleased to be able to offer these Outreach Events as a musical gift to our community. If you support this concept, please consider making a donation to the Ed Mandel Fund to further these educational concerts.

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Not Your Typical German Chorus

If someone invited you to hear a German vocal group this past Sunday, you might well have been expecting beer, ballads and dirndls with perhaps the occasional yodel or yelp.  So mistaken!  That’s Bavaria, my friend, and this is Leipzig, that’s Oktoberfest and this is classical beauty.  “All the World’s a Stage,” a tribute to William Shakespeare by the Calmus Ensemble was many, many miles away from the stein-thumping beerhalls of Bavaria, and in its own universe of harmonies, counterpoints and remarkable understanding of five-part, a cappella, vocal music.
The instruments with which the ensemble worked is nothing more or less than their own perfect voices; to have added strings (or a tuba!) would truly have been gilding the lily. You will not be surprised to learn that the Ensemble has raked in prizes and awards from virtually every choral competition.  They sing with intensity, but never sound forced; they are always controlled, but never stented.  To achieve the level of perfection the Calmus has must take hours and hours of practice, but the music they produce doesn’t sound contrived.  I wonder how long it took and how many sessions were necessary to achieve the flowing, natural sound of O Willo or to transform their voices from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century harmonies?  And they did it effortlessly – or so it seemed.

They sing with intensity, but never sound forced; they are always controlled, but never stented. To achieve the level of perfection the Calmus has must take hours and hours of practice, but the music they produce doesn’t sound contrived.

This was, most assuredly, an unusual concert.  Did you hear your brain clicking in as this very sophisticated music struck some seldom-used neuronal synapses?  Did you hear the sound of the audience listening intently?  Any pins drop?

When Calmus returns, I for one won’t be thinking Lager, I’ll be enjoying champagne.

– E Doyle

Calmus Ensemble

Join us on Sunday, April 23, 2017

A perfect blend of sound, precision, lightness and wit. These are the hallmarks of Calmus, now one of the most successful vocal groups in Germany. The ensemble has forged a refined sound which few groups achieve. The wide range of sound colors, the joy in performing that musicians convey on the concert platform, and their varied and imaginative programs are praised by the press time and time again. These five Leipzig musicians have won a whole string of international prizes and competitions, including the ECHO Klassik and Supersonic Award, and the reach of their activities is constantly expanding, taking them throughout Europe as well as to North and South America. In 2010 the quintet made its debut at Carnegie Hall, New York.

The musicians are tireless in their quest to discover new repertoire. Shaped by the centuries-old tradition of great German boys’ choirs, they are naturally at home in the vocal music of the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Romantic. The music of our own time is also a real passion. In all their ventures, there are frequently interesting partnerships with musicians such as the Lautten Compagney Berlin, the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, Hamburger Ratsmusik and the Frankfurt Radio Bigband. As this often means totally new repertoire in the area of contemporary music, over the years Calmus has commissioned numerous new works from composers including Bernd Franke, Steffen Schleiermacher, Wolfram Buchenberg, Mathew Rosenblum, Bill Dobbins, Michael Denhoff and Harald Banter, and the group has given many world premieres. It goes without saying that they revel in singing pop, folk and jazz, as well as chansons and golden oldies from the 1920s.

Part of their work is devoted to encouraging the up-and-coming generation, so teaching and workshops are part of their regular schedule, both at home in Leipzig and on their travels. It’s no wonder that Calmus, with its unique line-up of soprano, countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass, is gaining more and more fans worldwide.

“…a flawlessly blended sound, relying not only [on] seamlessly meshed vocal timbres but on ornaments placed with absolute precision across all five voices… the singers bring tremendous character and musical depth to their interpretations, conveying the tone and meaning of lyrics in a fashion that transcends the language of the lyrics.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“They infuse their singing with wonderful lyricism and exquisite expressiveness, they bring passion to their interpretations and they, quite simply, bring whatever they sing to glorious life.”

Deseret Morning News

Members:

Anja Pöche (soprano)
Sebastian Krause (countertenor)
Tobias Pöche (tenor)
Ludwig Böhme (baritone)
Manuel Helmeke (bass)

Program

“All the World’s a Stage”, a program of music inspired by the plays and poetry of the immortal bard, William Shakespeare.

Venue

Temple Beth-El
Address: 211 Belknap Place
Time: 3:15 PM

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