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Leonardo the Music Lover

If you look, you can find thought-provoking ideas everywhere.  For example, the May 2019 issue of National Geographic which has a sketch of Leonardo da Vinci on the cover has this little gem in Claudia Kalb’s article on the great master:

“Leonardo ranked music as second only to painting, higher even than sculpture, describing it as ‘figurazione delle cose invisibili,’ the shaping of the invisible.”   Claudia Kalb, National Geographic, May 2019, pg. 92.

This quotation spoke to me.  Isn’t that just what great music does?  Regardless of the genre?  Doesn’t music that speaks to your heart, your mind, your very soul perform its magic by putting something that perhaps you haven’t really formulated into words into melody and harmony?  Don’t those lines of music, that particular harmony go to a place within and find there its corresponding chord?  And that, my friends, is the reason we leave our everyday lives to witness and enjoy that unique pleasure that is music.

Take a minute to join me in a little meditation on how music works on us.   First, perhaps, is association.  There is a song performed by the blind tenor, Andrea Boticelli, that from its opening bars brings to mind a remarkable memory of a dear person who has passed away.  I always associate that song with him and it always goes straight to my heart.  Then there’s memory:  sometimes I hear a passage of music that I can’t quite place until I realize that it’s something I learned to play on the piano when I was a child.  And of course, there’s just pleasure with no apparent connection to our memories.  Sometimes I hear something for the first time and it’s just so pleasurable that I smile and make a mental note to try to find a recording.  Music has the power to conjure, just as Leonardo said.  Conjure what?  Colors, scenes, places, desires, ceremonies; I would love to know what it conjured for Leonardo, wouldn’t you?

Music has the power to conjure, just as Leonardo said.  Conjure what?  Colors, scenes, places, desires, ceremonies; I would love to know what it conjured for Leonardo, wouldn’t you?

Music is also a pathway to understanding.  You might never have thought about or really understood the horror that was Stalin, but when you hear Shostokovich’s Symphony No. 9, you will understand not only the courage of the composer but also the terror he endured.  If you want to understand and even visualize the 18th Century world of Vivaldi, you must listen to his music.  Think about the court of Versailles: the rustle of satin, the scent of pomanders, the elaborate wigs – and the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, the composer who, along with Moliére, created the Comédie ballet.  Too exotic?  How about understanding the 1960’s?  Can’t be done without the music of the Beatles.

I hope this just-ended five-concert SACMS season struck that corresponding chord in you.  And I invite you to join us for our 2019-2020 season which begins October 6th, 2019, with Apollo’s Fire.  Come enrich your musical vocabulary, strike your memory chords, stir your heart.

Happy summer to all our friends!

– E Doyle

Wu Han Outreach Event

Following the Han-Setzer-Finckel Trio concert on Sunday April 28, pianist Wu Han gave a beautiful Outreach Concert at St. Mary’s Hall for around 250 students aged 14-17, faculty, and a handful of Chamber Music Society board members. Chaplain Cameron Gunnin set the scene beautifully with a vivid description of Wu Han that captured her multi-faceted career in a compelling way. The students were incredibly well-behaved, attentive, and respectful. It was obvious that they are well-shepherded by Chaplain Gunnin and the faculty at St. Mary’s Hall.

Wu Han talked about her life growing up in Taiwan and attending a private Catholic school where she had a rigorous training and education. She also described with infectious enthusiasm her many jobs ranging from performer, to arts administrator, to fund raiser, to educator. She played several works by Spanish composers Albéniz and Granados that she had recently performed on tour in Spain.

During the Q&A portion of the concert one young man asked Wu Han if she knew any music by French composer Erik Satie. She replied no, but that she had recently recorded the Faure Piano Quartets and advised that he should listen to them. She told the student that if he would give her his address, she would mail him a copy of the CD when it is released. Sure enough, I saw him up on stage after the concert exchanging addresses with her. She told me later that he had told her that listening to classical music relaxed him and allowed him to do better in basketball games!

Throughout the Q&A Wu Han’s answers to the students’ questions were global in scope and had applications for skills in lifemanship.  Wu Han and her trio are amazing ambassadors for musicians in modern society.  It is obvious by the way the trio embraced every aspect of their visit here – from Wu Han’s brilliant introduction to the Sunday concert, to the beautiful expression of the playing, to the warm interaction with audience members after the concert – that they embrace a life dedicated to the celebration and nurturing support  of live music performance.   

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Exquisite Balance

I believe that I now understand “balance” as the word applies to musical groups as well as to the music they chose to play.  I heard an exquisite balance of piano, cello and violin and I enjoyed the perfect – if unlikely – balance of three compositions from three centuries and sensibilities.

First, the performers.  David Finckel, an amazing cellist (and, believe me, as a cellophile I know my celloists) provided the warm, rich music that supported the ensemble.  Philip Setzer, master of the violin, gave each composition the soaring songs required by each composer – even Mendelssohn’s notoriously impossible Scherzo movement.  And Wu Han, hair and fingers flying, demonstrated her deep mastery and understanding of the music she performed.   And this trio worked.  They blended, they were precisely contrapuntal and they obviously enjoyed the performance.   Their music laughed and cried, was joyous and profoundly tragic – all in perfect balance.

Their music laughed and cried, was joyous and profoundly tragic – all in perfect balance.

The music performed by these masters should never have been blended into a single program, but again there was such beautiful balance.  Beethoven, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn: three gifted composers from three entirely different sensibilities.  Beethoven writing fashionable court music, earning his always precarious living by pleasing and surprising his audiences with intricacies and novelties; Shostakovich, literally taking his life in his hands by composing music that warily thumbed its nose at Stalin while contributing to the great artistic tradition of Russia; and Mendelssohn, the Romantic, who wove together threads of Judaism and Christianity to produce a golden fabric of pathos and compelling religiosity.  These three great composers should never have appeared on the same program, but they did and the program was perfectly balanced by their respective geniuses.

And this is exactly what the San Antonio Chamber Music Society aims to do and has done for 76 years now.  We strive always to provide a balanced season of international performers and superb music.  We hope you have enjoyed the season and, with us, you look forward to the 77th season of artistry and our special brand of Sunday afternoon escapism. Our next star-studded season will begin October 6, 2019, with Apollo’s Firea Grammy-winning Baroque ensemble you don’t want to miss. The season continues November 10 with the dynamic Ariel String Quart with Ilya Shterenberg, who just happens to be the Principal Clarinet of our very own San Antonio Symphony. Then, on January 26, 2020, we will present the incomparable Akropolis Reed Quintetdescribed as “pure gold” by the San Francisco Chronicle. On March 1, 2020, the impeccable and wildly popular British vocal ensemble VOCES8 will cross the pond to inspire us with their eight beautifully integrated voices. Our 77th Season will end on April 26, 2020, with the exceptional Parker String Quartet, another Grammy award winner which the New York Times called “something extraordinary”.  As you can see, there will be something for everyone, all fabulous performances to be enjoyed – do come share this enjoyment with us! 

– E Doyle

Han-Setzer-Finckel Trio

April 28, 2019

David Finckel, Wu Han & Philip Setzer

In recent seasons, the dynamic husband-and-wife duo of David Finckel (cellist) and Wu Han (pianist) have teamed up with violinist Philip Setzer—David Finckel’s colleague in the legendary Emerson String Quartet for more than three decades—in performances of the piano trio literature. The Han-Setzer-Finckel Trio is a formidable triumvirate of three masterful musicians– what they can so individually, though, is surpassed by what they do together. As an ensemble, they present a systematic yet passionate approach that sets the bar for how chamber music should be played.

Violinist Philip Setzer, a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, is a versatile musician with innovative vision and dedication to keep the art form of the string quartet alive and relevant. Mr. Setzer won second prize at the Marjorie Merriweather Post Competition in Washington, DC, and in 1976 received a Bronze Medal at the Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels.

David Finckel and Wu Han are among the most esteemed and influential classical musicians in the world today. Recipients of Musical America’s Musicians of the Year award, the energy, imagination, and integrity they bring to their concert performances and artistic projects go unmatched. San Antonio audiences can still remember the concert they played on our series in March, 2013. Finckel and Han are also co-Artistic-Directors of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, Music @Menlo in the San Francisco Bay area, and a Winter Festival in Korea.

Here is an excerpt of an interview of Wu Han conducted by TheaterJones last November:


TheaterJones: This is probably a question that you get a lot, but what’s it like to be able to play at such a high level with your husband?

Wu Han: Yes, I do get that question a lot! [Laughs] We started our relationship playing together before being romantically involved and somehow that intensity and chemistry started from the first time we played together. So even before we were involved, people would come up to us and ask, “Are you guys married?” And at the beginning, we just laughed and thought, “What are they talking about?” We are very fortunate, though. We have to make sure we keep things incredibly professional—not taking personal issues into rehearsal or our professional activities. That we make separate. It’s an unusual and treasured relationship, musically especially, so we take it really seriously. We still rehearse a lot and love working together. We just don’t think about who forgot to do dishes last night or didn’t put their clothes away at any of our rehearsals or performances, which I think is what it should be.

A lot of times when chamber groups perform, the members haven’t necessarily played with each other very much, nor do they know each other very well. What’s it like to play in a trio with your husband and then a violinist he’s worked with for decades? How does that inform your rehearsals and performances, that you know each other so well?

It’s fascinating—people assume that if you know each other well, you’ll play well, but that’s never the case—I know many good friends or couples who hardly make music together—they just can’t play together at all. So I think—with David and Phil [Setzer] there’s always been this basic chemistry, even when they first met 35 years ago.

When they first met, they played in a piano trio with Phil’s ex wife on piano, and then they were instrumental in the founding of the Emerson Quartet. But the advantage of playing together for a long time is that you do know each other’s strong points and weak points, so you do very consciously prepare things and make decisions around that. Still, rehearsals are equally intense with people you’ve known 35 years or you’ve known five minutes. There’s no difference in my experience. We’re just very, very lucky that we enjoy each other’s company and enjoy each other’s playing. That’s another unusual aspect of this trio. So far, knock on wood, David and I have been married 29 years, and playing-wise have never really had a major disagreement. Knock on wood, knock on wood! [Laughs]

What’s really great about the repertoire for piano trio? What’s your favorite repertoire for trio, and why?

I love Schubert—there’s just no other composer I love more. So it all started with Schubert! My next favorite composer is Beethoven. These two composers, thank God, both devoted energy to the trio genre. Beethoven wrote seven throughout his life, Schubert wrote 2 major trios before he died. Piano trio is very different from other chamber music genres—each individual has to be a very, very strong player. There cannot be a weak link, either technically or with chamber music skills or listening skills. You have to play piano trios as well as you play your solo repertoire. At the same time, you have to have all the chamber music chops, meaning you have to be able to respond spontaneously, you have to be able to control your instrument, be able to really make sure the balance is correct within the whole, complete group, not just your individual part. It’s a very demanding genre, and we certainly love it. I just think piano trio is the best! This will be our first time playing for the Dallas audience as a trio. Besides the Brahms and Mendelssohn C Minor, there’s a lot more repertoire to go! We just played a program of Shostakovich and Beethoven—it was heaven!

On Sunday, April 28, the stars are aligned when these three legendary musicians come together for a first-time performance in San Antonio. Be there to experience the alchemy of the Han-Setzer-Finckel Trio and witness the magic of three consummate artists expressing diverse musical ideas in one voice.

“It used to be the Beaux Arts Trio that other piano trios had to look up to and attempt to emulate. Now it’s the Han-Setzer-Finckel triumvirate that is the standard bearer.”

Reichel Recommends


David Finckel (cello) Wu Han (piano) Philip Setzer (violin)


Piano Trio in in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1

Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67


Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66


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

Going Up!

It occurred to me the other day that I’m spending an awful lot of time in elevators.  This is, of course, a factor of age, occupation, age, social life, age…  Well, you may get my drift.  Gone are the days when I thought nothing of running up or down several flights of stairs.  Nowadays, it’s push the button and wait for my usual mode of ascent or descent.  I live in a high rise (that’s one elevator trip); I volunteer in a high rise (trip #2); I often go to a social club which is in a high rise (trip #3); and then there are the occasional trips to friends (trips #4, 5, and 6).  My two man-made knees and my creaky back appreciate elevators, but I’ve also learned some interesting life lessons while hanging out in elevators.

My two man-made knees and my creaky back appreciate elevators, but I’ve also learned some interesting life lessons while hanging out in elevators.

In the first place, I never get to hear all of the story.  That’s frustrating.  “So Albert and Mrs. G are having a little fling, and you know what?”  (Door opens.  Arggh!!)  “Well, I’ve pretty well decided that this job is just not worth it.  Next week I’m going to” (Door opens.  Rats!)   (Enter as door opens): “…and she said that if he doesn’t do something about this situation and do it now, I’ll do something.” “How are you going to do that?”  (Door opens.  I’ll never know, but I’ll be reading the paper.)  I have often thought I could take some of these overheard bits and pieces and write a novel – or at least a short story!

Another commonality for us Riders In the Sky is our profound ambivalence to the sounds around us.  Of course, there’s the famous elevator music.  Kenny G must make a fortune from all that sound that comes from his side-mouth clarinet.  Couldn’t the building afford the Boston Pops, music from great ballets or even Mariachi?  Maybe the decision-makers are afraid we’ll break into dance and disrupt the cables.  I don’t know.

Then there’s perfume.   Some folks, both men and women, must splash on large quantities of really pungent perfume or after-shave just before boarding the elevator.  You could die from the fumes.  And even after the offender has left, the melody lingers on.  I used to live in a high rise in Montreal, and I could always tell if the woman who lived three floors up had been in the elevator; she wore a fake fur that was drenched in Armani.  To this day, I hate the smell!

And, of course, there’s the ever-present cell phone attached to a fellow rider’s face.  I always thought there was no internet service in the confines of an elevator; not so.  Being in the elevator may just require that one speaks louder and repeats often.  But I only hear one side of a conversation and I’m left to wonder what the other person was saying.  It has occurred to me, however, that people on cell phones while in an elevator have found a way to avoid talking to anyone who is also on the elevator.  It’s all a fake, people!  You gaze at the floor lights with rapt attention, I talk on my cell phone.  Mission accomplished:  I don’t have to talk to you or even admit your presence.

Another thing that’s odd about elevator travel:  if you’ve ever been on an elevator with a man whose religion forbids he look at other women, he must, perforce, turn to the wall.  In the small confines of an elevator car, this is disconcerting to say the least.  Why doesn’t he just get a cell phone and stare at the floor numbers as they appear?

Finally, for the truly faint-hearted, there are the scary sounds some elevators make (I don’t mean Kenny G).  I’m going along, up or down as the case may be, when out of nowhere comes this groaning sound and I start to wonder if this is my trip to the Great Beyond instead of to the 20th floor.  Furtively, I glance around at my fellow passengers and no one seems to be alarmed or grasping the side rails, so I decide that they are all used to this particular elevator and its song.  Nothing to worry about, right?  And have you ever checked the weight allowance posted in the elevator?  Why is that posted inside the elevator instead of in big letters outside where all those people who are trying to crowd on are?  We’re all going to die….

And have you ever checked the weight allowance posted in the elevator?  Why is that posted inside the elevator instead of in big letters outside where all those people who are trying to crowd on are?

I’m glad to announce (in case you haven’t noticed) that you needn’t take an elevator to enter the beautiful Temple Beth-El  in order to enjoy a superb musical experience.  So relax:  a few steps, a ramp and you’re all set to hear something that will make you forget all about elevator music.   In fact, our next (and the season’s last) concert is on the horizon:  The fabulous Finckel/Han/Setzer Trio will make your Sunday afternoon, April 28th, a joy.  Come join us at 3:15pm and forget all about elevators!  By the way, the 2019-2020 season will also be unveiled and subscription tickets will be available for sale. We will also be distributing a very brief questionnaire to learn your favorites.  See you there!

– E Doyle

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