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Decoda ensemble in concert


The 81st season of San Antonio Chamber Music Society sprinted through the starting gate with something bright, fresh and new. SACMS has demonstrated that there’s a lot of life in the old girl yet: we have a new and very comfortable venue and our first concert of the 2023/24 season lives up to the billing – “Viva Chamber Music!

Not to mix metaphors (heaven forbid), but Decoda produced a concert that made me think of a novel I just didn’t want to end. The cast of characters was engaging and spirited and the plot line built to an exciting rendition of Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4 in e minor, Opus 90 “Dumky”. Just as any engaging novel, the Decoda concert held audience attention with hooks at the end of each chapter, leaving the listener wondering what further pleasures would be forthcoming.

Decoda is young in years, but classic in presentation. You may have read in the program notes that this group was formed just in 2012, but their performance belies their youth. Clara Lyon, violin, Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, cello, Catherine Gregory, flute, Brad Ballett, bassoon, and David Kaplan, piano, are the core components of Decoda we had the pleasure of hearing. Exploring, in their words, “the emotional power and complexity of dance music across four centuries and three continents,” Decoda began with a totally unexpected and delightful combination of music by Stravinsky (19th Century) and Rameau (17th Century) as arranged by flutist Gregory (21st Century). It was described as a re-imagined dance suite combining snippets and songs from the two composers and it produced proof that genius often melds, even when centuries apart.

After intermission, the next engaging chapter began with the unexpected and infectious rhythm of a tambourine which led into the equally infectious rhythm composition, “Moombi Asanti,” which translates to “prayer of thanks.” This brief, joyful composition by Valerie Coleman, a founding member of Imani Winds (which graced our stage last season), was a bit of pure sunshine.

Finally, the climax and denouement of this Sunday afternoon pleasure was the Dvořák ”Dumky”, a superbly rendered expression of contrasting lamentation and exaltation. It’s difficult to imagine that this music was composed in 1891; it could easily express the multi-national traumas of the present day.

If you are curious enough to check out the endpaper (the Decoda web site), you will learn that this is a most unusual consortium of musicians, flexible in their instrumentation and composition. Furthermore, the audience had the pleasure of watching and listening to five musicians who really enjoyed what they were doing together – the true gift of performance.

E Doyle