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American String Quartet with Poet, Tom Sleigh Outreach Event

American String Quartet with Poet, Tom Sleigh at Brandeis High School on November 12, 2018

On Veteran’s Day, Monday, November 12, SACMS hosted one of its most exciting Outreach events ever.  It was exciting because we had 450 music students in the audience at Brandeis High School!  The American String Quartet along with poet, Tom Sleigh, pulled back the curtain and explained how they put together their marvelous program Lyric in Time of War.  For those of you who were lucky enough to be in the audience on Sunday, November 11, you know this was an unusual program in that it was without intermission or applause until the end.  And in between musical selections, there were readings by Mr. Sleigh and author Phil Klay.  The format was different at the Outreach as artists explained throughout the program how music sometimes says more than words, and the brevity of poetry can encapsulate the essence of a difficult topic such as war.

Mr. Sleigh read some poetry during the educational concert on Monday and explained how he chose the poems.  The mutual respect and synchronicity of spirit between the musicians and the narrator was palpable to all.  The quartet played portions of Shostakovich Quartet No. 8, Bach from Well-Tempered Clavier, Bartók Quartet No. 6, and Beethoven Op. 95 Serioso, all music they chose to express some aspect of warOr in the instance of the Bach work, peace. 

The students showed maturity in their numerous insightful and thoughtful questions; they were also rapt with attention when listening.  Much of the credit for this extraordinary educational experience goes to Kevin and Jennifer Garcia-Hettinger who are music teachers at Brandeis High School and private string teachers.  Kevin went out of his way to bus in several middle school classes of music students.  We are grateful to have such generous mentoring in our community for the next generation of musicians.

If you enjoy knowing about our Outreach events and want to support more, please consider making a gift to the Mandel Outreach Perpetual Trust. Details at www.SACMS.org.

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

The Holiday Bowl

Here we are, just a few days before Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season.  The River will soon be festooned with lights, downtown buildings will sport lights and decorations and cars will sprout antlers and red noses on their hoods.  In my house, there is a slight vibration, a humming sound coming from a kitchen cabinet – and I know what it is.   It is the atoms that make up the special, green pottery bowl; they are quivering with anticipation of their annual holiday turn.

You know there has to be a story here and here it is.  Years ago, I became the current keeper of a large bowl.  It’s an ordinary-looking bowl: made of sturdy pottery, a dark jade green in color and with a wide rim that allows a firm grip.  It holds about 2 quarts, I guess, although I’ve never tested capacity.  I suspect that it may have been one of a set of green pottery bowls, but I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, if it was, it is the sole survivor.

And why is it special, this rather homely green bowl?  Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough.  Then the bowl came down to my mother.  In my recollection of home, the same home where my grandmother had lived, there was a large, walk-in pantry that smelled of spices and contained rows of mysterious glass jars and bins for flour and sugar.  There on a shelf was everything needed for holiday meal preparation: a big, black roaster oven, ample enough for an enormous turkey, the pot that was big enough for a dozen or more potatoes (not to be mistaken for the sweet potato pot); there was the colander you’d need for the green beans; the pie plates for that special pecan pie that only my mother could make; the cut glass dish for the cranberry sauce – and the green pottery bowl.

Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough. 

In my experience, the green pottery bowl was only used to make dressing for the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.  (Some call it “stuffing,” but I think that sounds like something you’d put in a mattress.)   Three or four days before the start of the serious preparation began, slices of bread would be arranged on baking sheets and left in a sunny window to dry out.  Then we’d make corn bread that included a little bacon grease in the mix.  And then someone would be assigned to very carefully lift the green pottery bowl from the pantry shelf and wipe it with a dish towel.  In goes the cut-up bread, in goes the cubed corn bread, in goes the celery and spices, in goes the stock — and the magic begins.           

So now I have made holiday dressing in the green pottery bowl for more than 50 years.  It has traveled the world over with my dishes and pots and pans, but is only taken down from its special place for the creation of dressing.  I suspect that this bowl carries within its pottery some very special spices, some magical ingredient that three generations of women have ingrained into it.  It has a little bit of Ireland, a little bit of Texas farm, a smidge of Bolivia, a taste of Argentina and of Brazil and a cold, cold touch of Quebec stored away in its elemental clay.  This is a bowl that knows its place and its role, and always gives its all to every holiday feast.  It has not a chip or scratch, it has NEVER experienced a dishwasher and will be passed on to yet another generation in my family.  It’s probably not worth the pottery it’s made of, but in my family, it is a treasure.

In these coming days, I will carefully lift the green pottery bowl from its place in the cupboard, wipe it out with a dish towel, think of my mother and grandmother, and start making the world’s best dressing!

I hope you too have a treasure and a tradition to enjoy this holiday season.  And here’s to all the cherished green pottery bowls.  Best wishes from your friends, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.

– E Doyle

An Experiential Concert

Sunday’s SACMS concert, LYRIC IN TIME OF WAR, was not for the faint-hearted.  Utilizing a format unfamiliar to many concert-goers, the American String Quartet wrapped their exquisite music around poetry by Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay’s narrative.  A tribute to Veterans’ Day, the result was far from the “Don’t  Sleep  Under the Apple Tree” genre of music, miles away from the flag-waving parades and jolly speeches and continents away from familiar tributes to “the boys.”  This concert was alternately beautiful, gut-wrenching, shocking and magnificent.  How to do all that in an hour and a half? 

It’s like a puzzle and it took some getting used to.   Beginning with the Bach Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier and moving forward to Tom Sleigh’s poetry, the music was interwoven with the lyric narrative and the free verse,  and the whole portrayed war with all its effects.  Assembled finally at the last strand of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor, the pieces came together like shrapnel speeding backwards into the grenade.  This was an experience of war as understood by composers, musicians and two writers, and the tone of profound sorrow and awe was conveyed to the audience.

This was an experience of war as understood by composers, musicians and two writers, and the tone of profound sorrow and awe was conveyed to the audience.

We’ve all been to concerts filled with beautiful, soulful music, but usually the experience evaporates after a while and two days later, we’d be hard-pressed to remember most of the selections performed.  Not so with this concert.  I for one did not drive home humming to the car radio, thinking ahead to dinner.  I left this concert with the shadow of ordnance shells overhead, lives lost, the sounds of war, the pain of grief.  The music so expertly performed by the American String Quartet so perfectly meshed with the poetry and narrative that it could have been composed for this very purpose.  Was Bach or Bartok thinking of war when they heard this music in their minds?  Perhaps not – but their music carries the emotional load expressed in the writing.  And Shostakovich, in the unfamiliar Quartet No. 8 in C minor, was most certainly expressing the horrors rained down on Russia by Stalin. There was no mistaking the fear and anger he wove into his composition.  Some of the music allowed pauses for contemplation – just as in war, there are silences during re-loading, I suppose – but the overwhelming purpose of the concert was to express what veterans experience and to help all of us appreciate their courage and the utter senselessness of war.

Our 76th season resumes January 27, 2019, with the exciting Cavatina Duo along with the world premiere of a composition by San Antonio’s own Matthew Dunne.  Here’s a promise of more stellar music!

– E Doyle

American String Quartet with Tom Sleigh & Phil Klay Concert

A Special Veterans Day “Extra-Musical” Event

November 11, 2018
Veterans Day
“Lyric in Time of War”

Music expresses what words cannot, but in addressing the issues of war and healing, these artists will combine the powers of both in this special Veterans Day concert

American String Quartet

Internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest quartets, the American String Quartet has spent decades honing the luxurious sound for which it is famous. The Quartet will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2019, and, in its years of touring, has performed in all fifty states and has appeared in the most important concert halls worldwide. The group’s presentations of the complete quartets of Beethoven, Schubert, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Mozart have won widespread critical acclaim, and their MusicMasters Complete Mozart String Quartets, performed on a matched quartet set of instruments by Stradivarius, are widely considered to have set the standard for this repertoire.

In 2017-18 the American String Quartet created “Lyric in Time of War”, a major project in collaboration with National Book Award-winner, Iraq War veteran Phil Klay and Academy award-winning poet, war journalist Tom Sleigh in a groundbreaking, culturally significant program combining music and readings that examines the effects of war on people, their hearts, and their minds. Phil is a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, and Tom has reported on the bloody conflicts in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya. Short readings are interspersed with music such as Samuel Barber’s stunning Adagio; Bela Bartók’s March from Quartet No. 6, which captures the unendurable grief of war written in 1940 at the beginning of WWII; Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, a piece famously dedicated to the victims of fascism and war; and Beethoven’s “Serioso”, composed during Napoleon’s invasion of Vienna and a period of serious inner turmoil for the composer. This program offers two perspectives on war; it acknowledges the hardships while recognizing and celebrating the sacrifices made by our veterans.

Phil Klay

Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer. After being discharged he received an MFA from Hunter College of The City University of New York.  Klay’s New York Times-bestselling short story collection won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2014.  Redeployment also received the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s James Webb award for fiction dealing with U.S. Marines or Marine Corps life, the National Book Critics’ Circle John Leonard Award for best debut work in any genre, the American Library Association’s W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, the Chautauqua Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Writing; and was short listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize.  He was also named a National Book Foundation ’5 Under 35′ honoree.  Klay’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Tin House and the Brookings Institution’s Brookings Essay series.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh is the author of ten books of poetry, including Army Cats, winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Space Walk which won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Award. In addition, Far Side of the Earth won an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Dreamhouse was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and The Chain was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize. Station Zed was published in 2015 and includes his long poem about Iraq, “Homage to Basho,” a version of which received Poetry Magazine’s Editors Prize.

In 2018 a book of prose collecting his essays on refugees in the Middle East and Africa, The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing In An Age Of Refugees, is being published simultaneously by Graywolf Press as a companion piece to House of Fact, House of Ruin, his latest book of poems. He has also published a previous book of essays, Interview With a Ghost, and a translation of Euripides’ Herakles. Widely anthologized, his poems and prose appear in The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Yale Review, Threepenny, The Village Voice, and other literary magazines, as well as The Best of the Best American Poetry, The Best American Poetry, Best American Travel Writing, and The Pushcart Anthology. He has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, a Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin, a Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, an Individual Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund, a Guggenheim grant, and two National Endowment for the Arts grants, among many others.

He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA Program at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn. During the last decade, he has also worked as a journalist in Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, and Libya.

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Lyric in Time of War” has been an incredibly successful program all over the country, as it speaks to the very real feelings, fears, and hopes of Americans. In addition, the outreach opportunities are vast: the musicians and authors have worked in VA hospitals, taken questions and bookstores, met with veterans’ groups privately. It’s a way to really make an impact on the community.

The program, around 80 minutes, will be performed without intermission. Readings will take place in between musical movements, creating an exciting and moving sound collage. The concert is a dialogue between the spoken word and music, summoning the power of both to transform and inspire.

Bach: Praeludium in F minor, BWV 857, from the Well-Tempered Clavier
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 8
Bartók: Marcia from Quartet No. 6
Barber: Adagio from Quartet for strings, Op. 11
Beethoven: Quartet in F minor, Op.95, “Serioso”

“The finesse, the thoughtfulness and depth of the performance could not be surpassed.”

Berliner Morgenpost

“Luxurious, beautifully sculptured performances”

The New York Times

Members:

Peter Winograd (violin)
Laurie Carney (violin)
Daniel Av­sha­lo­mov (viola)
Wolfram Koes­sel (cello)
Tom Sleigh (author)
Phil Klay (author)

Program

Lyric in Time of War
The following pieces will be interwoven with readings by Mr. Sleigh and Mr. Klay

BACH
Praeludium in F minor, BWV 857, from the Well-Tempered Clavier

SHOSTAKOVICH
Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

BARTÓK
String Quartet No. 6

BARBER
String Quartet, Op. 11

BEETHOVEN
Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 “Serioso”

Venue

Temple Beth-El
Address: 211 Belknap Place
Time: 3:15 PM

Moving Day

I am presently surrounded by all of my worldly possessions: everything from a grade school picture to my mother-in-law’s best crystal candleholders; every possible-sized pot and dishes from at least 3 sets; hair brushes of unknown provenance, pots full of defunct ballpoint pens, 4 oriental rugs of varying sizes, and one forlorn dwarf bamboo in a moldering pot.  And that’s only what I can presently see!  As I relocate from my home of 25 years to an apartment (which I thought was spacious), I have learned some valuable lessons which I will impart to you.

Lesson 1:

The three most dreaded words in the English language are, “Have you seen…” followed closely by “Where is the…” and “It’s here somewhere.”

Lesson 2:

You know you’re getting old when you need more space for your medicine collection than for your makeup (and note that all your makeup, which has been hidden away for years, begins with some variant of “anti-aging”).

Lesson 3:

If you say to yourself, “Where did this ever come from?” or “Is this mine?” toss it!  If you haven’t seen/used it in memory, you don’t need it.

Lesson 4:

If you and your significant other are still on speaking terms after a couple of weeks of this, you’re good for all eternity – or at least until one or the other of you walks out in disgust.

Lesson 5:

Keys.  If you have any idea of what all these keys you’ve accumulated over the years unlock, you’re a better person than I.  Corollary:  put tags on all keys while you still have some idea, albeit vague, of what they go to.  Another corollary: do you know how hard it is to throw away a key?  What if…?

Lesson 6:

Carefully label all boxes as they are packed.  That way, you’ll have a perfectly good reason to burst into tears when, unpacking, you find your good silverware at the bottom of a box of coat hangers.

Lesson 7:

When you just can’t take the sight of clutter as far as the eye can see, when your beautiful, light-filled apartment is pitch black because there are boxes stacked against the windows, when you find one more piece of something you know goes with something else but you can’t remember what and you don’t dare throw it away because you know that sooner or later you’ll find what it goes to, when it’s all just too much – well, it’s time to find a wine glass and a bottle of good wine, put the classical guitar music on and just try not to think about it for a while.  It will still be there when you’ve finished the wine, but you just won’t care.

I feel like a coral reef without the pretty fish!  Layers upon layers of boxes, paintings, pitchers and pictures, lamps and lamp shades, international things that I’m sure caught my eye in Bolivia or Beijing, Egypt or Copenhagen – what is it and why do I have it?  Or does it have me?

How did all this stuff accrete to me?  I feel like a coral reef without the pretty fish!  Layers upon layers of boxes, paintings, pitchers and pictures, lamps and lamp shades, international things that I’m sure caught my eye in Bolivia or Beijing, Egypt or Copenhagen – what is it and why do I have it?  Or does it have me?  I look enviously at refugees, carrying all their worldly possessions in bundles and, while I don’t wish to be in their number, I respect their ability to put all of their really important possessions in a sheet or serape, bring the corners together in a knot and sling everything over their shoulders.

I did miss one very important lesson:  if you can find some clean clothes somewhere, put them on and come to a concert.  November 11th, the American String Quartet along with Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay will be performing at our regular venue, Temple Beth-El, at our regular time 3:15.  You can come inside, shut off the clutter and confusion for a couple of hours and just relax, re-lax.  It will all be there when you get back, but I am a believer in escape, no matter how transitory.  And if you see someone with a serape full of possessions over her shoulder, well that will be yours truly.

– E Doyle

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