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We often speak of chamber music as being a conversation among musicians.  In order to carry on an interesting conversation there is respect one for the other, contributions from one or another that carry the conversation forward and a sense of commonality, community and harmony.  So when you are privileged to hear such a conversation rendered in music, it’s easy to imagine that this is precisely what the composer had in mind.  Such was the musical conversation we heard last Sunday, the 10th of November.  The Ariel String Quartet, augmented but never overpowered by the artistry of San Antonio Symphony Principal Clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg, performed not just intensely, but interestingly.

 The Quartet led off with Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8.  The Program Notes said that in July, 1960, he was supposed to write the score of a film about the horrible firebombing of Dresden; instead, he composed the achingly sad Quartet No. 8 which he dedicated to victims of war.   Somewhere at the depth of this performance, I reflected on the nationalities of the artists – not something that usually draws my attention.  But the fact that they represented cultures that had been scarred by war made the music all the more poignant.  The two Largo movements, performed with so much soul (for want of a better word) were simply heart-breaking.

For the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and for the Weber Clarinet Quintet, Ariel was joined by a master of the clarinet, Ilya Shterenberg.

For the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and for the Weber Clarinet Quintet, Ariel was joined by a master of the clarinet, Ilya Shterenberg.  To the great good fortune of San Antonio, Mr. Shterenberg is a major artist in our own Symphony Orchestra and it was a pleasure to experience his magic at such close range. He has performed with the Ariel previously and knows each musician and this friendship was evident in the blending and joyful conversations among the quartet and the virtuoso.

Finally, the Ariel Quartet performed a very familiar composition, Schubert’s Quartet in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”).  They didn’t just dust if off and launch into the well-known movements; they made it their own, interpreting Schubert’s lyricism and bringing this beautiful composition to life.  The saddest aspect of this music was not the death of the young girl but the death of the composer, at age 31, shortly after this complex and masterful expression of genius was written.

Continuing this stellar season of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society, we invite you to join us for the Akropolis Reed Quintet Sunday, January 26, 2020, at 3:15 p.m.  The prize-winning Akropolis is an ensemble of five young and energetic performers whose performance has been described as “pure gold.”  You may just change your mind about the versatility and artistry of reed instruments!

– E Doyle

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