Talk about a tough act to follow
I hope you were in the audience at Trinity Baptist Church last Sunday afternoon, October 16th. This was the beginning of San Antonio Chamber Music Society’s 80th Anniversary Season, and what a beginning it was! There was a capacity crowd of enchanted listeners in the elegant sanctuary of Trinity Baptist Church, as the ladies and gentlemen of the Academy of St. Martin the Fields Chamber Ensemble delivered the sublime compositions of Purcell, Brahms and Enescu with passion and grace – exactly what the audience expected, plus above and beyond.
They played the concert as one glorious instrument, unfazed by even the intricate and incredibly challenging Octet in C by George Enescu.
“Professional musicians” takes on a whole new meaning when referencing the eight musicians of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble: violins Tomo Kellen, Harvey de Souza, Jennifer Godson and Martin Burgess; violas Robert Smissen and Fiona Bonds; and cellos Caroline Dale and Will Schofield. They played the concert as one glorious instrument, unfazed by even the intricate and incredibly challenging Octet in C by George Enescu. During the intermission chat with the two violists, Mr. Smissen commented on the difficulties of this composition. Created by a young (age 19) genius in 1900, the Octet is not embarked upon lightly by even the most experienced ensembles. In Enescu’s own words, a musical composition can be termed a musical composition “…only if it has a line, a melody, or, even better, several melodies superimposed on top of one another.” This idea produced wonderful, complicated music which causes chamber musicians hours and hours of practice and very difficult ensemble coordination. Mr. Smissen said that when the ensemble successfully completed one of the particularly challenging phrases, the audience might perceive a brief relaxation and signs of relief among the performers. I only saw one sly smile after the second movement.
Purcell’s Chacony for Strings (as arranged by Benjamin Britten, another great British composer) was the opening selection of the concert. It is hard to comprehend that it was actually composed in the 17th century – the utilization of the bass line, so ably maintained by the cellos and violas, gave it a much more modern sound. As performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, the Chacony (an old English word for “song”) was a magnificent way to send us off into our 80th year.
…the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble took us on a deep dive into this music, illustrating the meticulous depth of design and brilliance which is so characteristic of Brahms.
The String Sextet No. 1, in B-flat Major by Johannes Brahms was composed when he was very young (age 27). Six players (Tomo, Harvey, Robert, Fiona, Caroline, and Will) from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble took us on a deep dive into this music, illustrating the meticulous depth of design and brilliance which is so characteristic of Brahms. The program notes describe Brahms as the ultimate perfectionist – destroying many versions of this, his first published string quartet. I wondered, as I listened, if Brahms had obsessed particularly over the Scherzo movement. The colors, lines, and sonorous tones flowing out of that music were especially “Brahmsian,” if you’ll pardon my neologism.
Yes, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble is a very tough act to follow, but follow we will:
Please note that this 80th season begins and ends with saints; that should tell you something! Mr. Smissen said that so much of the success of chamber music depends on what the audience brings to the auditorium. So please bring yourself and your friends to the concerts of this special year.
*Just a totally personal, editorial word: as a 20+ year Board member of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society, I want to remind you that it is members of our small all-volunteer Board who donate their time, money and tireless labor towards the goal of ensuring that this 80-year-old society dances into the future. Yes, SACMS will need some help – YOUR help! To help us continue bringing you world-class performances, and to fulfill our mandate of enriching the San Antonio community by taking these superlative musicians to outreach events in schools and other institutions, please pitch in – to keep the music flowing and the joy of listening alive, for us all. No donation is too small! I can’t begin to tell you how much your support means to us.
– E Doyle