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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

Coffee Houses

This all started with the search for a good summer read, and then one thing led to another.  The book I found was a novel about the coffee trade in Holland in the 15th-16th centuries (The Coffee Trader, by David Liss).  Coffee had recently been introduced to Europe, and everyone, for reasons that are totally incomprehensible, took to the dark, bitter liquid made from the coffee bean like Gen Xers to Starbucks.  Go figure.

From this fascinating historical novel, I began thinking about the effect of coffee – and specifically, coffee houses – on the culture of Europe and subsequently, America.  And that (plus Google) led me to Zimmermann’s Kaffeehaus in Leipzig .  No ancestor of Starbuck’s here;  no strangely named, expensive concoctions with little resemblance to actual coffee and consumed by individuals lost in their phones and tablets.  This grand institution was founded in 1702 by Gottfried Zimmermann in Leipzig at 14 Kathrinenstrasse – the  most elegant street in all of Leipzig, and the place where Bach and his buddies hung out (in a manner of speaking).

So I checked out  the Coffee Cantata by Bach, and things just went all over the place from there.  I soon discovered that one cannot talk about Bach and his concerts at Zimmermann’s without learning about perhaps the most famous (certainly the most prolific) composer and musician of his age, Georg Phillip Tellemann. Sit back, read and prepare to be amazed.  (You may want a cuppa to enjoy while I enlighten you….)

Tellemann was born in 1681 in Magdeburg, the son of a Lutheran deacon who had the poor foresight to die when his son (and his other three children) were still quite young.  Early on, young Georg showed a talent for music, but when his widowed mother sought the advice of the Lutheran higherups, she was told, reportedly, that if he followed a career in music, he would be “….no better than a clown, a tightrope walker or a marmot trainer.”  (How does one train a marmot?  I’ll Google that next!)  But the boy won over his mother at last and received some musical education at the Old City School.  No Julliard, apparently, OCS left Georg to pretty well teach himself, and teach he did; he played flute, violin, viola da gamba, oboe, trombone, double bass and a variety of keyboard instruments.  Eat your hear out, Elton John.  Oh, and he also commposed his first opera at age 12.
At 20, Georg set out for Leipzig to study law, apparently thinking that the practice of law might be more profitable than training marmots.  In Leipzig, he met another Georg, that being Georg Friedrich Handel, then 16 years old, and before long, Tellemann was back to composing cantatas for the churches of Leipzig, producing a new one every week!  By 1722, he was the Director of the Leipzig Opera and turned out 4 operas in 3 years. Just weep, Frank Lloyd Weber.

After a long and incredibly productive life, Tellemann died in 1767 at the age of 86 – oh, an in his spare time, he had published his own music.

Now, the road leads back to Zimmermann’s Kaffeehaus.  In 1702, Tellemann founded the Collegium Musicum which was hosted – at no charge – by Gottfried Zimmerman.  Admittance was also free, and herr Zimmermann was able to profit by the patrons’ proclivities for beautiful music and really good coffee.  One of the habituees was none other than Johann Sebastian Bach, who took over the Collegium Musicum in 1729 and directed its productions of recitals and chamber music (see? You knew I’d get to chamber music eventually!) until 1739.  The music essentially died with Zimmermann in 1741, but the building existed on Kathrinenstrasse until the bombing of Leipzing during World War II. It was, sadly, reduced at last to rubble.

All of the above at long last brings up the Coffee Cantata by Bach – see the connection?  Think about the ladies – yes, ladies were allowed to attend the musical events at Zimmermann’s – and gentlemen in their satins and lace thoroughly enjoying their coffee and some of the most remarkable, enduring music the world has ever known.

By the way, you too will enjoy some of the most remarkable, enduring music in the world (sans coffee)  at San Antonio Chamber Music Society concerts.   This season will conclude at Temple Beth-El with “Calmus” – an a cappella vocal quintet from Germany, singing music inspired by Shakespeare. You are going to love it!

– E Doyle

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