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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

SACMS

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

Members:

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

Program

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

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

-Intermission-

MENDELSSOHN
Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66

Venue

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

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

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