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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

Connections

It was all about connections, this Cavatina concert.  Only two instruments, both relatively simple but with a storied history:  an acoustic guitar and a golden flute – what could be simpler?  But what melodies and historical connections they produced! 

There were two musicians, connected by their countries’ surprisingly interwoven histories and cultures.  Eugenia Molinar, flutist extraordinaire, explained to us that her husband’s Slavic aunt spoke archaic Spanish and that her own Spanish grandmother lit a Shabat candle every Friday evening; she didn’t even realize the significance of the candle but, like the music her own granddaughter now performs, the candle was engrained in her cultural memory from centuries past.  The richness of this program (which included music from the Seventeenth Century to modern music) kept the audience captive in its mastery and, more importantly, its warmth.  The Temple was the perfect venue for exploring heritage.

Denis Azabagic, despite his self-deprecating humor about his status as second fiddle to his wife’s golden flute, is quite obviously a master of the kind of quiet, lyrical and utterly magical guitar music this audience greatly appreciated.  The two musicians together were able to spin a mystical web of swirling cadenzas, irresistible tangos and superb sound.

The two musicians together were able to spin a mystical web of swirling cadenzas, irresistible tangos and superb sound.

This concert was unique in that it presented the premiere of a work by Matthew Dunne.  The connection between Mr. Dunne and the Cavatina is a close one and the duo had the pleasure of meeting the person in honor of whom Mr. Dunne composed his Three Artisans, flutist Tal Perkes.  Matthew Dunne is also a well-known guitarist and has composed music for some of the best guitarists now performing; but this composition came straight from the heart.  His good friend, Tal (a flutist with the San Antonio Symphony), was posthumously honored as artist, architect and flutist and his tribute was flawlessly performed by the Cavatina Duo.

This was a different chamber music concert: only two musicians filling Temple with amazing technique and connecting with the audience in a particularly heartfelt way.  I noted as well one more connection:  when the Cavatina performed Isabel, by Joseph Williams, a piece inspired by Sephardic Jews who were driven from Ms. Molinar’s homeland of Spain in the Sixteenth Century, I remembered I had heard that this date, January 27th, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  And just as the ugliness of the death of Isabel, this young Jewish woman in Spain, the beauty of the music endures.  Just as the sorrow for the death of a good friend and fellow artist saddens, he is immortalized in music.

– 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

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

Something Really Extraordinary

This will come as a shock to you, but brace yourself.  I think Dawn Upshaw cheats!  She makes the incredibly complicated seem effortless, the atonal sound melodic and the enormous range of her voice seem expected, controlled and crystalline.  Now you tell me:  how does anyone do that?  Maybe she is super-human; I don’t know, but I do know quality and perfection when I hear it, and I heard it Sunday at the first concert of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society’s 2018-19 season.

Of course, it helps to share a program with the Brentano String Quartet.  These masterful musicians performed – among other selections – a work by one of my personal favorites, Franz Josef Haydn.  The thing about Haydn is that his music in the wrong hands can sound tinkly (is that a word?) and tinny and metronomic.  I should know.  When I was but seven, I was already destined to be a concert pianist, and what do aspiring concert pianists perform (to the beat of a metronome, of course)?  Haydn, that’s what.  But as time went on and my piano career came to a screeching halt in high school, I came to understand and appreciate the works of Haydn.  And I have often thought, as I did Sunday, that if Haydn himself could have listened to the Brentano performing his work, taking full measure of the imagination, the humor inherent in his String Quartet in C, he would smile.  In fact, he would clap his hands in glee as the Brentano brought this beautiful composition to life once again.

…so I adjusted my inner ear and resolved to understand and enjoy… I never thought I would have goosebumps! …the quality of the performance made it irresistible!

Something else I would like to ponder:  the Respighi composition.  Respighi is well known for his tone poems; he brings such wonderful sights to mind as the listener enjoys the range of his music.  Il tramonto (The Sunset) as performed by the Brentano and Dawn Upshaw was a vision of the majesty of a sunset, captured forever in this composition.

And now for the Schoenberg.  I wasn’t too sure I would enjoy this composition as I am not an ardent admirer of the composer.  I’d have to say I’m kind of hot and cold on his work; it’s a mindset, I guess, and also what you bring to it.  Well, I brought an admiration for the performers, so I adjusted my inner ear and resolved to understand and enjoy.  I never thought I would have goosebumps!   Shoenberg and thrills just don’t go together for me in the usual course of events, but the quality of the performance made it irresistible.  So goosebumps it is.

When you have the pleasure of hearing musicians such as the Brentano and Ms Upshaw, you know you have witnessed something really extraordinary.  And I know with equal certainty that the remaining concerts in the SACMS season will also be extraordinary.  Circle November 11 for the next music extravaganza, the American String Quartet with Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay.  Here come the goosebumps!

– E Doyle

Our 76th Star-Studded Season Is Here!

Our 76th Star-Studded Season is here! Be prepared to be dazzled on this new adventure: you will be amazed, intrigued, challenged, transported, charmed, moved, and uplifted! With each passing season, the performances get better and better. You won’t want to miss any of the fantastic concerts starting this October. Take a look at our stellar line up below and buy your season tickets now!

Brentano String Quartet with Dawn Upshaw

October 7, 2018

The exceptional and critically acclaimed Brentano Quartet, known for its adventurous spirit and imaginative programming, will collaborate with 5-time Grammy Award winner and beloved American soprano Dawn Upshaw, who will lend her incomparable voice to bring you a Sunday feast that probes the depths of human expression.

American String Quartet with Tom Sleigh & Phil Klay

November 11, 2018

The American String Quartet is internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest quartets. Tom Sleigh is the author of ten books of poetry, including the award-winning Army Cats. Phil Klay is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and is the author of an award-winning New York Times-bestselling short story collection.

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, titled ‘Lyric in Time of War’.

Cavatina Duo

January 27, 2019

Dedicated soloists and chamber musicians, the Cavatina Duo breaks convention with their combination of instruments. Add to that their daring choices of varied and versatile repertoire, and the result is new sounds, colors and musical phrasings, which in return awakens a high level of emotion and audience response. These consummate artists will give the world premier of a special commission work by San Antonio composer Matthew Dunne in memory of the late San Antonio Symphony Principal Flute Tal Perkes.

Eighth Blackbird

March 10, 2019

Eighth Blackbird is “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune). Launched by six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory undergraduates in 1996, this Chicago-based super-group has earned its status as “a brand-name… defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality… known for performing from memory, employing choreography and collaborations with theater artists, lighting designers and even puppetry artists” (Detroit Free Press).

David Finckel, Wu Han & Philip Setzer

April 28, 2019

Called the ‘power couple of chamber music’ by the Wall Street Journal, David Finckel and Wu Han rank among the most dynamic of today’s classical artists. They are joined here by Emerson String Quartet founder, Philip Setzer, for an extraordinary collaboration that will both dazzle as well as mesmerize. Come witness chamber music playing at its best.

Get Your Season Subscription Today!!!

A complete Season is only $100 (Seniors $75) and includes a Bonus Ticket for a friend! Plus: any ticket may be used for any concert of your choice! This is the best deal in town!

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