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Rest In Peace

I went to a funeral yesterday.  No, you didn’t know the man who had died and it’s likely you didn’t know his family.  Even I had only a brief acquaintance with him and his family, but it happened that a member of my family had married this man’s daughter and I’m glad I bestirred myself to attend the man’s departure ceremony.  Patience.  I’ll tell you why.

To begin with, the two families that were united by the marriage of (let’s call him) John and his wife and her daughter and my cousin are from different ethnic cultures and different races.  The funeral chapel was filled to capacity with every color of human, every manner of grieving for this ordinary, remarkable man.  The music performed ranged from “Time To Say Goodbye” through Country-Western to opera.  There was also music representing John’s ancestors’ culture.  The minister spoke of the glories of the afterlife, the rewards of a life well-lived, etc., etc., and it was clear he didn’t know John or his wonderfully variegated family.

The impressive part of this memorial, though, was not the music or the minister or the message; it was the spoken reminisces of his friends and family.  John was a man who loved others; he was a good friend, a helper, a facilitator, an accepter of differences.  For many years, he had a business which put him in contact with all manner of people and he was known as a “soft touch.”  He would try to help anyone he could, his generosity sometimes putting his own finances at risk, according to his friends.  He had a mischievous sense of humor, a dry intellectual wit and a sense of fun that remained in the fond memories of his family and his neighbors. His nieces remembered John taking them to concerts, all kinds of concerts, and how they enjoyed those special times with their uncle.  His neighbors told of the fabulous desserts he’d make to share with all.  As one by one, his friends and family spoke of John and recounted stories of his deeds and his joy, I wished I had known him better. 

The impressive part of this memorial, though, was not the music or the minister or the message; it was the spoken reminisces of his friends and family. 

If you’re lucky, once in a while you will come across someone like John – an unforgettable person who even at his last rites brings smiles and happiness to those he touched.  People like John are to be treasured, as John was and will forever be in the memories of his friends and family.  I know they will tell stories of him for years to come and they will laugh and cry for missing him and laugh for remembering him.

Driving home, I pondered (as one does) what would be said about me when I could no longer come up with a smart riposte or a lame excuse.  I measured out the joys of my life and hoped that I had shared them, as John did, in such a way as to bring joy to others.  I, too, would like to be remembered as one who joins together cultures and ethnicities and races, but John has set a very high bar.

I hope that you will share some joy with me at our April 28th concert presentation, the Finckle/Han/Setzer Trio. You will find beauty to share as you listen to this remarkable trio, known for their exquisite mastery of the piano trio genre.  We’ll be at Temple Beth-El and students and active duty military will be admitted free.  Come enjoy!

– E Doyle

Eighth Blackbird Outreach Event

Eighth Blackbird Outreach at Morningside Manor Assisted Living on March 11, 2019

On March 11 Eighth Blackbird shared their talent with a segment of the population that is too often forgotten.  They played for an hour in the Morningside Manor assisted living unit.  Their pieces were thoughtfully chosen and warmly introduced to the quiet audience of elderly people who mostly arrived by wheelchair.

The program was completely different from the music performed by the group on Sunday here in the Temple.  We had the chance to hear a compelling work by Eighth Blackbird flutist Nathalie Joachim, from her piece “Fanm d’Aviti” (Women of Haiti).  Etude No. 12, a minimalist piece by the revered American composer Philip Glass, was soothingly played by pianist, Lisa Kaplan.  Violinist Yvonne Lam gave a riveting performance of a solo work for violin – “Dissolve, O My Heart” by Missy Mazzoli.  The group ended with “The Days Run Away” by Peter Garland, a piece for all the instruments that brought the program to a calming end.

It is difficult to witness a program in an assisted living environment without feeling very much humbled by the power of music to heal and soothe.  We are grateful to Eighth Blackbird for their loving kindness in presenting this concert.

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Experiential Music

The audience at the Eighth Blackbird concert last Sunday were promised a novel and exciting experience; they got it.  If you were expecting four or five string musicians in their somber black suits and dresses performing the usual chamber music fare (16th, 17th and 18th Century composers with maybe a little 19th and 20th century thrown in for good measure), you were definitely surprised.  Rather than the usual, San Antonio Chamber Music Society presented the unusual: six very talented musicians performing very modern music on roughly a dozen instruments.

This was “experiential music” as opposed to “expected music.”  To explain: think about a painting by Georges Seurat, say “A Sunday Afternoon at the Island of the Grande Jatte,” a prime example of pointillism.  The reason it fascinates is a bit of a trick it plays on the brain:  you are deceived into believing you are looking at an ordinary Impressionist painting, but it is actually an impression of impressionism: thousands of tiny dots of paint, leading the brain to the experience of summer light and enjoyment.  The genre-bending compositions performed by Eighth Blackbird accomplished a similar feat.  They weren’t thematic in the usual sense – they were compositions by young composers and their fresh visions of classical music defy being shoved into a box.  Just as in the Seurat painting, it would be useless to try to pick apart each tiny color.  You simply have to take in the whole and just enjoy.  (I did wonder if others in the audience felt as chilled as I did during “The Clarity of Cold Air” or experienced the rocks and water tumbling in “Eroding.”)  The compositions crossed one genre line after another from jazz to blues to where-did-that-come-from to harmony to discord, from noise to barely perceptible whispers, from expected to totally amazing.  These talented musicians also managed to express humor and pathos with their varied instruments; it was apparent they richly enjoyed what they were creating. 

The compositions crossed one genre line after another from jazz to blues to where-did-that-come-from to harmony to discord, from noise to barely perceptible whispers, from expected to totally amazing.

You may have observed there was very little in the way of sheet music in front of these guys and only after hours and hours of practice and trust in one another can a group improvise in the way they did.  Not that everything they performed was improvisation – far from it – but there were definite areas of pure “winging.”  I guess that’s the blackbird in this group. Returning to the expected (but, of course, also performed with the expected perfection), the last concert of our season is the Finckel/Han/Setzer Trio, a true standard-bearer for classical trios.  Come hear this beautiful performance April 28 at Temple Beth-El, 3:15 p.m.  Remember, students and active duty military are admitted free. – E Doyle

Eighth Blackbird Concert

March 10, 2019

Eighth Blackbird

Eighth Blackbird, hailed as “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune), began in 1996 as a group of six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and quickly became “a brand-name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality” (Detroit Free Press). Over the course of more than two decades, Eighth Blackbird has continually pushed at the edges of what it means to be a contemporary chamber ensemble, presenting distinct programs in Chicago, nationally, and internationally, reaching audiences totaling tens of thousands. The sextet has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by composers both established and emerging, and have perpetuated the creation of music with profound impact, such as Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, which went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. The ensemble’s extensive recording history, primarily with Chicago’s Cedille Records, has produced more than a dozen acclaimed albums and four Grammy Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance, most recently in 2016 for Filament. Longstanding collaborative relationships have led to performances with some of the most well-regarded classical artists of today from heralded performers like Dawn Upshaw and Jeremy Denk, to seminal composers like Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. In recent projects, Eighth Blackbird has joined forces with composers and performers who defy the persistent distinction between classical and non­classical music, including works by The National’s Bryce Dessner and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry, and performances with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, My Brightest Diamond frontwoman Shara Nova, Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Iarla Ó Lionáird of The Gloaming, among others.

Eighth Blackbird first gained wide recognition in 1998 as winners of the Concert Artists Guild Competition. Since 2000, the ensemble has called Chicago home, and has been committed to serving as both importer and exporter of world class artistic experiences to and from Chicago. A recent year-long pioneering residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, during which the ensemble served as a living installation with open rehearsals, performances, guest artists, and public talks, exemplified their stature as community influencers. Receiving the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, Chamber Music America’s inaugural Visionary Award, and being named Musical America’s 2017 Ensemble of the Year have supported Eighth Blackbird’s position as a catalyst for innovation in the new music ecosystem of Chicago and beyond.

Eighth Blackbird’s mission—moving music forward through innovative performance, advocating for new music by living composers, and creating a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians —extends beyond recording and touring to curation and education. The ensemble served as Music Director of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, has held residencies at the Curtis Institute of Music and at the University of Chicago, and holds an ongoing Ensemble-in-Residence position at the University of Richmond. In 2017, Eighth Blackbird launched its boldest initiative yet with the creation of Blackbird Creative Laboratory, an inclusive, two-week summer workshop and performance festival for performers and composers in Ojai, CA.

The members of Eighth Blackbird hail from the Great Lakes, Keystone, Golden, Empire and Bay states. The name “Eighth Blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, imagistic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird: “I know noble accents / And lucid, inescapable rhythms; / But I know, too, / That the blackbird is involved / In what I know.”

“One of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet.”

Chicago Tribune

“A brand-name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality.”

Detroit Free Press

Members:

Nathalie Joachim (flutes)
Michael J. Maccaferri (clarinets)
Yvonne Lam (violin & viola)
Nick Photinos (cello)
Matthew Duvall (percussion)
Lisa Kaplan (piano)

Program

NINA SHEKHAR
ice ‘n’ SPICE

FJÓLA EVANS
Eroding 

ANGÉLICA NEGRÓN
Quimbombó 

HOLLY HARRISON
Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup

-Intermission-

NATHALIE JOACHIM
Madam Bellegarde

JONATHAN BAILEY HOLLAND
The Clarity of Cold Air

VIET CUONG
Electric Aroma 

JULIUS EASTMAN
Stay On It

Venue

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

Cavatina Duo Outreach Event

Cavatina Duo Outreach at UTSA on January 26, 2019

The Cavatina Duo outreach took the form of two simultaneous masterclasses at the UTSA Department of Music on Saturday afternoon, January 26, 2019.

The flute masterclass conducted by flutist Eugenia Moliner began with group exercises for the ten students from the studio of UTSA flute professor Rita Linard.  She positioned them in a semi-circle and worked with them on the art of breathing- air flow and control. Rapport was quickly established between Eugenia and the students: she spoke to them in Spanish to help clarify certain points, after discovering that most of them spoke Spanish at home. Then individual students played their prepared solo pieces, after which Eugenia gave each one constructive critiques and helpful pointers on air support, rhythm, dynamics, and tone production. She also gave each student a “prescription” for fixing specific problems – exercises to handle technical challenges. She impressed on them that only 10% of the flute’s sound is produced by the instrument, the rest is coming from inside the performer’s body – the “sound box”. Seeing that many of the students were nervous about playing solo in front of the class, Eugenia told the students that they need to believe that the audience always wants the performer to do well – knowing that will help them relax and keep their anxiety under control.  After a brief Q & A session, Eugenia showed the students the score of Matt Dunne’s “Three Artisans” – a tour de force for flute, and demonstrated how she practiced it when she was learning the very difficult piece: using the same methods that she had taught them earlier.

The guitar masterclass had about twenty attendees, some of whom came from out-of-town. Guitarist Denis Azabagic worked with five students from the studio of Matt Dunne, director of the Guitar Program at UTSA. Similar to the format of the flute masterclass – each of these five students performed a solo piece and then had a discussion with Denis about the fine points of tone production, how to get different colors out of the instrument, phrasing, pacing,  and subtle variations in how the fingers can make contact with the strings. Denis had these one-on-one sessions videotaped on his cell phone, and each student was given a copy of his/her session to keep for future reference – all agreed that this was a great idea.  During the Q & A session, the class learned that technique is only important because it enables one to do the job of expressing fully what the music is saying, thus concentrating only on technique is not enough – one must understand the composer’s intent before starting a new piece.

Both Eugenia and Denis emphasized the paramount importance of listening: not just to music for one’s own instrument, but to all forms of music – instrumental, and vocal. Students were encouraged to attend as many concerts as they possibly can, and to never stop learning – “look to the masters for guidance and inspiration”. The masterclasses went on for almost three hours, and by the end there were only smiling faces.

Submitted by Pauline Glickman

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