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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

The Cello-phile

 

I’m a sucker for cellos.  I freely admit to this weakness.  While all stringed instruments are completely magical – and I don’t claim to understand how anyone masters performance on a violin, viola or bass, for that matter – cellos for me belong in a different category.  I’m informed that the cello has the same range as the human voice and that’s why the cello is so appealing.  I’m not buying it.  If I ever came across someone who sounded like a cello, I would never leave his  or her side.

And even as I watch these words appear on my computer screen, I’m listening to a cello.  Not just any cello this: it’s the cello that belonged to Pablo Casals, perhaps the greatest cellist ever.  And it’s a repetition of Casals’ last concert.  His cello is being beautifully played by a friend, Amit Peled, who has performed for the San Antonio Chamber Music Society in two memorable concerts.  He now plays the Casals cello, loaned to him by Casals’ widow.  This isn’t just a magnificent instrument, I do believe it has a soul, and I think Amit Peled is the luckiest cellist alive to be able to call forth the soul of this very special cello.

A cello is never shrill, it doesn’t scream “Listen to me, listen to me!” It’s sometimes content to just play accompaniment to its more feeble siblings, and without the cello, they would sound, well, thin.

So I’m wondering:  what is it about a cello that appeals to me? I would walk across glass to hear  a Yo-Yo Ma performance.  Perhaps there are other “cello-philes” out there and they no doubt have their own reasons for loving cellos.  But for me, a well-played cello can perform the music of a ho-hum composer and transform it into a masterpiece.  A cello is never shrill, it doesn’t scream “Listen to me, listen to me!”  It’s sometimes content to just play accompaniment to its more feeble siblings, and without the cello, they would sound, well, thin.  But a cello in concert, all on its own, played by a master, can simply make me cry.  As I listen to Casals’ cello and the artistry of Peled, I find myself thinking of things like the Sistine Chapel, fresh baked bread, a field of flowers, the perfection of a scarlet wine – I could go on, you know.  But when I listen to the music of Fauré , for example, performed by a cello – this cello, especially —  I listen.  I am absolutely attuned (for want of a better word) to this swirling music that is so perfect for the instrument.  I guess you could say that it strikes a chord.  Or I guess it just makes me happy.

If you haven’t heard it yet, be sure to listen to Amit Peled’s “Casals Homage.” It will make you happy, too.  And for even more happiness (does your cup runneth over?), remember to come hear the Aeolus Quartet next January 22.  There will be a cello, of course!

– E Doyle

Portuguese Lesson

Now that you’ve enjoyed the Brasil Guitar Duo, it’s time for you to learn a little Portuguese. It’s a wonderfully melodious language as spoken in Brazil, and it’s perfect for poetry and music. Let’s start with vocabulary words:

Tranquilo  =

Translates to tranquil, but it has the added meanings  of peaceful, relaxed and quiet.   A wonderful example is the music performed on a pair of quiet, perfectly synchronized acoustic guitars.  You may have noticed that the audience was absolutely quiet, too.   You may have also noticed that Joao and Douglas performed without sheet music.  Como poderem facer isto?  How do they do that?!

Maravillosa!  =

The description of Sunday’s concert.  It means, of course, marvelous, but it carries a deeper meaning of pure joy.  For example, Rio is known to Brasileiros as cidade maravillosa, the jewel on the ocean where everything stops for a party.

Sambear =

to dance the samba, the non-stop, hip-swinging, national dance of the cidade maravillosa;  naturally, someone who dances samba (doesn’t everyone?) is a sambista.

Musica brasileiro =

is, as you may guess, Brazilian music (as if there were such an entity).  You experienced the music of two composers, Gismonti and Pereira,  that was anything but samba.  See?  These Brazilians are multi-faceted!  And you’ve probably heard “The Girl from Impanema” a few times, but there’s the soul-stirring sound of the Northeast  (o nordeste), guacho  music of the South (o sur) and the music and rhythms that were brought to Brazil from Africa and the Carribean.  Tudos som a musica brasilera.  (It’s all Brazilian music.)

Sodade =

the homesickness you feel for the cool, blue ocean; the beaches; the wonderfully creative people of Brazil; feijoada (a black bean stew packed with flavors) every Saturday; and two  innately talented gentlemen such as Joao Rezende and Douglas Lara who have incorporated the music of the world into their Brazilian sensibility.

Joia! =

jewel, as in this performance was a jewel and I’m so glad we had the experience of enjoying (see the connection??) this wonderful concert.

Bom partido =

the name of the award-winning CD that launched the careers of the Brasil Guitar Duo.  It means, literally, a good departure, but it implies a good start.  Indeed, it was.

Obrigado.

(Thanks for coming to the concert) e ate logo (and we’ll see you soon).

– E Doyle

The Plastic Brain

Whenever I hear a waltz, be it German, Mexican, 17th Century or modern, I think of my uncle. Remarkably, in his 9th decade – unable to remember how to tie his shoes and ceaselessly folding and unfolding papers (making meaningless origami that perhaps only he understood) – he could hum along when a waltz was played. He and his wife loved to dance and belonged to several dance clubs when they were younger; now, he had great difficulty arising from his favorite restaurant table. But when a waltz was played, he would move his gnarled hands in sweeping rhythm to the music and he would smile. I’m certain that in some corner of his brain, he and my aunt were dancing across a polished floor, perfectly in step and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
That’s why an article I saw on “neuroplasticity” caught my attention.  The word is used to describe the heretofore little understood ability of the brain to change, to move functions around, to in effect shuffle its connections.  The piece reported on the use of music to help restore function to people with neuromuscular disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and to reach people closed in by Alzheimer’s and strokes.  The basic premise is something we’ve always known:  music is powerful.  It elicits emotions, memories, pleasure and sadness.  The question is how, and how can music enrich neural function?
…music is powerful.  It elicits emotions, memories, pleasure and sadness.

Aren’t we all avid readers of  Trends in Cognitive Science?  No?  Not so much?  Well, according to this learned journal, music was studied head-to-head, as it were, in comparison to anti-anxiety medications in people who were about to undergo surgery.  By tracking the amount of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, the researchers were able to conclude that the music group was less stressed (and by their own reports) than the control group who took anti-anxiety medications.  You may have also noticed that some oral surgeons give their patients earphones before they start to work.  They have no doubt learned that a dose of Chopin (in my case, anyway) causes a less anxious patient.

Furthermore, says Daniel Levitin, a neuropsychologist at McGill University, listening to or participating in the production of music increases immunoglobin A which is linked to higher immunity to bacteria and other nasties.  “I think there’s enough evidence to say that musical experience, musical exposure, musical training, all of those things change your brain,” says Dr. Charles Limb, associate professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University. “It allows you to think in a way that you used to not think, and it also trains a lot of other cognitive facilities that have nothing to do with music.”  Dr. Limb is also hopeful about the prospect of musical engagement as a way to prevent, or at least delay, dementia. (This from a CNN report by Elizabeth Landau, 2/16.)

Some years ago, researchers studying brains and their circuitry began using a tool known as functional MRI – or fMRI to the cognoscenti. fMRI allows the actual tracking of, among other things, verbal and non-verbal communication. And here’s the really cool part of what’s been learned: brain areas that “light up” in response to music are also affected by language, memory, attention, motor control and executive function. Apparently, music can stimulate interactions among these functions. (This is a very abbreviated discussion of what I learned from the DANA foundation about the work of Drs. Michael Thaut and Gerald McGregor on music and the injured brain.)

Brain areas that “light up” in response to music are also affected by language, memory, attention, motor control and executive function.

Bottom line:  listening to or performing music has cross-over effects on many other brain functions. One example that comes to mind is the “Haydn Effect.”  I’m stopping-and-going (more the former than the latter) along Wurzbach Parkway – and you know why they named it Park-way, right? I am not at all happy about time and gas wasted when my friends at KPAC choose to air the Adagio of Haydn’s Symphony no. 94 in G major.  So I turn up the radio and just listen to the gorgeous music.  I am no longer exerting a death grip on the steering wheel and the grimace on my face relaxes into a calm acceptance of the fact that since I’m not going anywhere fast, I may as well enjoy Haydn.

So I would like you to think of your attendance at the San Antonio Chamber Music Society’s season concerts not just as a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but as brain therapy.  As you enjoy the Brasil Guitar Duo (Nov. 20) or the Aeolus Quartet (Jan. 22), turn inward and see if you can catch your brain in the act of being plastic!

– E Doyle

Great Danes

Great Danes. I know nothing at all about animals of the canine persuasion, absolutely nothing. But I met some Great Danes Sunday afternoon. Three of them, in fact, along with one Norwegian (just to provide variety, I guess), and they were Great! If you were at the SA Chamber Music concert last Sunday – and about 300 of you were – you heard something you would never have expected to hear from Great Danes!
If you were at the SA Chamber Music concert last Sunday – and about 300 of you were – you heard something you would never have expected to hear from Great Danes!

To be more precise, these particular Great Danes made up the Danish String Quartet and I have to admit, humbly, that the music they performed was unfamiliar to me; this is a situation I will remedy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard glissandos performed in perfect time and harmony by four stringed instruments, or syncopations so precisely measured. And that was just the first selection, “Swans Kissing.” The Shostakovich was, as promised, dark and a little scary in parts, but I was thinking about the era and surroundings in which it was written. The Great Danes — beg pardon: the Danish String Quartet — took us back to a tragic era in history when a composer could be hauled away to no-man’s land for expressing his feelings and talent. It was a dark time indeed.

But the Quartet livened up the program after intermission with a delightful selection of Scandinavian folk music. They practically danced through the joyful jigs and polkas of the not-so-frozen north. Did the music sound a little like the hornpipes and bagpipes of Denmark’s neighbors to you? I thought so and fully expected someone to break into a reel. Oh well, we know Great Danes don’t dance. Or do they?

I hope you’re looking forward to enjoying the music of a different part of the world at the November 20th concert. Brazil, Cuba, Spain, Italy, France: all with wonderful musical traditions and interpreted by a pair of world-class classical guitarists, the Brasil Guitar Duo.

Meanwhile, think about the remarkable program you’ve just heard and the four young, globe-trotting virtuosos who performed it. They may call themselves the Danish String Quartet, but I will think of them as the Great Danes.

– E Doyle

After Concert Dinner at Paesanos

Driven to Distraction

Has this happened to you? You’re cruising along on your way to work – or whatever – and you’re listening to some KPAC music while trying to drive the speed limit so that the cop that hangs out in the hidden driveway at the bottom of the hill doesn’t snag you (again!) and present you with a ticket to the Texas Drivers’ Safety Course ( which is probably the most boring six hours you’ll ever spend) and a summons to the JP Court where you’ll pay a big, fat fine; well has this happened to you?

...turn up the volume on your radio and let the calming music soothe your jangled nerves.

As in the aforementioned, you’re just cruising along when all of a sudden the fool in the left lane who’s driving some monstrous SUV suddenly pulls in front of you, hits his big fat brakes and turns right. Now why couldn’t he just have pulled in behind you since he knew he was going to turn right? No. He’s just got to pull in front of you and you have nowhere to go but over the curb or up in the air. (Where’s that cop now?!) Now you could make some very uncivil hand gesture (which the fool in the SUV won’t see because he’s already a mile down the side street, but maybe you’ll feel better) or you could just turn up the volume on your radio and let the calming music soothe your jangled nerves.

Such is the power of music.

Or try this one on for size. You’re at the grocery store, trying without success to find the chocolate-covered onion stuffed olives you just must have for that recipe. How many aisles have you been up and down? How many squats have you done – only to be disappointed again? How many clerks have given you the idiot treatment or, alternately, sent you off on a wild goose chase down Aisle #87?

...turn on the radio and there it is: beautiful, beautiful music and you’re ready to take on the next challenge.

Having finally resigned yourself to the idea of going to the expensive specialty store, you’re headed for check-out with your meager purchases. Oh, look, a “limit 15 items” checkout line! The day’s not a total waste. You push your wobble-wheeled cart over – only to find that the woman who’s slipped in front of you has probably got 96 items in her cart and by then, someone’s pulled in behind you and you’re stuck. Finally through the line, you wobble out to the door – only to have your foot creamed by the idiot careening through the lane in a motorized cart. Why oh why oh why me? It’s okay, though. You get in your car, start the engine, turn on the radio and there it is: beautiful, beautiful music and you’re ready to take on the next challenge.

Such is the power of music.

Life’s little wrinkles seem to smooth out to the sound of music. Have you noticed? And if you have some wrinkles that need smoothing, may I recommend the glorious music in store for you at the 74th season of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society? Trust me: nothing will bother you after the Sunday afternoon concerts you’ll spend at Temple Beth-El with the Danish String Quartet, the Brasil Guitar Duo, the Aeolus Quartet, Les Amies Trio and the Calmus Ensemble.

Life’s little wrinkles seem to smooth out to the sound of music. Have you noticed?

You’ll be so tranquil and laid back that not even a monster SUV or motorized grocery cart will ruffle your feathers. You really should get your season tickets now to avoid the rush. Just go back to the web site where you found me, sacms.org, and check it out. I really look forward to seeing you there. (I’ll be the utterly tranquil one….)

– E Doyle

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