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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

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

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

A learning experience

Some things I’ve learned from a knee replacement surgery:

Don’t ever sit in a chair with wheels (unless you want to go to the next room or possibly outside very quickly).

The walker is your friend.  Yes, it’s ugly, scares the cat half to death and is incredibly clumsy, but use it you must unless you feel an urgent need to return to the hospital.

Under no circumstances, turn on the TV during the day.  Unless your selection is far broader than mine, you will “enjoy” incredibly old series such as all the various SVUs and CSIs and be treated to topical comedy shows from the Bush I years.

Radio – remember radio?  The music on KPAC is always there for you and something wonderful by Mozart may even help you forget how much your new knee hurts.  There’s also that collection of CDs awaiting you; never mind about the Christmas ones – it’s too depressing to think about all those people having fun in the snow when you can’t even get out of the house.  Go for the strings:  guitars, violins, violas, cellos (always cellos!).  They soothe.  Brass is just too – well – brassy and winds just make me wish for spring.  Strings are the way to go.

Go for the strings: guitars, violins, violas, cellos (always cellos!). They soothe. Brass is just too – well – brassy and winds just make me wish for spring. Strings are the way to go.

The surgeon is dedicated to the strange notion that hacking into your leg will not have painful after- effects, therefore he has enriched your pharmacy with prescriptions for virtually every pain killer known.  Now, I’m not saying you should eschew chemical assistance in your recovery, just beware.  You have to remember that if you’re taking any of this stuff you cannot drink any, and I mean any alcohol.  Everyone toasting the New Year?  Put water in a champagne glass and pretend.  Furthermore, even if you haven’t had even a teensy-weensy sip of wine, you will most assuredly stagger around like a drunken sailor.  These pharmaceuticals will, I guarantee, cloud your thinking (just try to do a NY Times Crossword puzzle!) and seriously impede judgement (as in, “I don’t think I need the walker anymore”).  So you want to go back to the hospital with a broken hip?

Grin and bear it.  People will send you cards and flowers and chocolates.   You’ll receive charming e-mails.  Don’t mess with the Oxycontin: pain builds character.  Turn on your favorite music, sip some water and aim to be able to make it to the next San Antonio Chamber Music Society concert on April 23.  You can do it!

– E Doyle

Les Amies, Our Friends, Too

Who needs the Oscars when you have friends like Les Amies?

If you had told me that a harp, a flute and a viola made a viable musical combination, I would have questioned your hearing if not your sanity.  OK, so I was wrong and you were right.  Somehow, these three widely different instruments can come together to produce heart-breaking harmonies and timing so precise that it is sometimes difficult to discern which instrument is playing the lead.  Les Amies, three distinguished musicians whose regular jobs are with the NY Philharmonic and teaching at Juilliard, realized they really enjoyed performing and creating music together as a trio – an unlikely trio, I think – and we are all the lucky beneficiaries of that enjoyment.

The music they performed for the fourth San Antonio Chamber Music Society concert this season was beautifully suited to their three (and sometimes just one or two) instruments.  It was a trip to another realm, far away from the hum drum and hustle of life (and Oscar Sunday) and out into the stratosphere, where every note and phrase has a life of its own.  They often invited us to “sit back and relax,” and that we did.  The music produced by this unlikely trio was somewhat akin to submerging into a warm bath.  It was peaceful music, such a welcome relief from the world outside Temple Beth-El.  Oscars, schmoscars!

It was a trip to another realm, far away from the hum drum and hustle of life (and Oscar Sunday) and out into the stratosphere, where every note and phrase has a life of its own.

Their program built to the Debussy, their last selection.  The Sonata pour flute, alto et harpe is devilishly difficult to perform with all its twists, turns, changes in tempo and keys, but it could have been written for these musicians.  They performed it effortlessly.

And I don’t know about you, but when as an encore they performed “Scarborough Fair,” I could have just cried.  (By the way, they will be recording a three-part piece including “Scarborough Fair” in the near future.)

So now we have three new amies.  Did you miss the Oscar hoopla?  Not I.  These three consummate musicians have certainly worked very, very hard to be able to produce their sound, but – to use a time-honored Texas saying – we never even saw ‘em sweat.

Harp, viola and flute?  You could have fooled me!

– E Doyle

Review: Aeolus Quartet

Take a close look at our SA Chamber Music logo:  see the swirl?  Thanks to the Aeolus Quartet, who performed a concert for us last Sunday, January 22, the swirl makes perfect sense to me.  Like the Nike “swoosh” signifies speed and aerodynamics, the swirl is a wrap-around sound of beautiful music.  Now I’m not saying the Mozart Adagio and Fugue weren’t close to musical perfection, and I love almost anything Aaron Copeland ever wrote, but the Barber Quartet and the Schumann Quartet were pure – well – swirl.  These very young, very talented musicians created a Temple-filling swirl of sound that was really glorious.

These four who comprise the Aeolus have already made their musical mark in the concert halls of the world.  Only nine years old, they are reaching the top of quartet glory.  They use American-made instruments – most of which are even younger than they – and they create a sound that can only be described as luxurious.  When they performed the Barber, I thought, “I know what he meant.”  I’ve heard that second movement, the “Molto Adagio,” many times, but this time I really listened.  And it was beyond solemn.

These four who comprise the Aeolus have already made their musical mark in the concert halls of the world. Only nine years old, they are reaching the top of quartet glory.

As for the Schumann, which Mr. Tavani said they had only performed in concert four times, well it was one of those performances you’d hope would never end.   Pure swirl.  It’s amazing that four very young musicians could understand the ideas and feelings of a Nineteenth Century master.  Much of what we consider “classical music” – that is, music composed in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries – is appreciated as beautiful, inspiring, uplifting and even thought-provoking, but Schumann’s composition as interpreted by Aeolus was all of that plus ethereal.  I kept thinking, “I wonder if they had a chance to chat with Schumann.  They seem to understand what he was saying.”  (Did I mention that I’m a big Schumann fan?)

So I hope you enjoyed that Aeolus concert as much as I did and will continue to enjoy the swirl that SA Chamber Music offers.  There are two more opportunities to experience it:  February 26 (Les Amies Trio) and April 23 (Calmus Ensemble).  And don’t forget you can use any of this season’s tickets or bonus tickets to bring a friend or two who could use a good swirl!

– E Doyle

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