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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!

Goodbye, Summer

I know when summer’s about played out when the “end of season” catalogues begin stuffing my mailbox.  “Seventy percent reduction,” they scream.  All the wonderful merchandise the shop couldn’t peddle during spring and summer (and some left over from last summer’s sales).  There’s that suit I craved when I first laid eyes on it in the spring catalogue.   “New for summer!” the headline blared.  “Cool, well-styled, just the outfit for office-to-evening,” they promised.  But, oh boy, it wasn’t cheap.  Now it’s the perfect “transitional” suit – whatever that means – and the price is half what it was in the spring catalogues.  I’m not biting.  I’ve gotten this far without it; what’s a couple of months more.

Another catalogue that arrived yesterday was filled with merchandise for Halloween and, yes, Thanksgiving.

Another catalogue that arrived yesterday was filled with merchandise for Halloween and, yes, Thanksgiving.  Oh, pul-eeze!!  I’m sure the next one will be touting Christmas wares.  Can’t we just enjoy the waning and still beach-worthy days of August without the constant reminders that time is marching on?  I don’t know if I’ll even survive until Thanksgiving, let alone decorate my Thanksgiving table with themed placemats, napkins and centerpieces.  Ugh!

In the interests of complete disclosure and truthfulness, I used to write advertising copy for a long-gone department store (remember those?).   The challenge was to grab the attention of the newspaper reader (SALE! In 36 point letters would usually accomplish that) and then to convince them that this was an item he or she had to have.  Oh, and everything had to fit in the space allocated by the evil layout designer, Helen.  I still have my well-worn and thumbed through Roget’s Thesaurus.  How many ways can you say “exquisite”?

And while I’m confessing my sins, I might as well tell you that I voraciously read out of town stores’ ads, magazine copy and even catalogues for bits and pieces I could use.  My boss thought I was a creative genius.   If only she knew….

I recognize the challenges faced by a catalogue copywriter and, really, I sympathize.

So I recognize the challenges faced by a catalogue copywriter and, really, I sympathize.  But just as it was hard for me to gin up enthusiasm for Christmas copy in September, it must be murder for these poor hacks to rhapsodize over fall fashion sometime in April to make their mid-summer deadlines.  If you’ve just walked two or three blocks to your cubbyhole (copywriters don’t get real offices) in the blazing heat of July, it’s darn nigh impossible to switch your gears to contemplate the wools of November.  To write about ski gear in August, swimsuits in January and, gag, Christmas wreaths in September takes a very special kind of crazy.  I know.

Check your personal stack of newly-arrived catalogues, though.  Lurking amid all those incredible bargains and must-have merchandise, I hope you’ll find one that reads (in 18 point), “2018/19: A Stellar Season.”  That’s doesn’t qualify as a “screamer,” as we say in the trade, but I hope it speaks to you.  That’s the season offering of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society and the subscription form.

Lurking amid all those incredible bargains and must-have merchandise, I hope you’ll find one that reads (in 18 point), “2018/19: A Stellar Season.”

If you have to say goodbye to summer, what better way than starting off the concert season with the Brentano String Quartet plus soprano Dawn Upshaw on October 7?  “Glittering clarity” is how The Strad described their music.  Man!  I wish I’d written that phrase!

The season gets better and better and, really, you won’t want to miss one concert.  Just look:

Reverting to my copywriting days – Only $100 will buy a season ticket PLUS 1 bonus ticket that can be used at any concert!!!  AND  any ticket may be used for any of the 5 concerts!!!  And students and active-duty military attend our concerts FREE!

Just call 210-408-1558 to reserve your season ticket or order online.  I will recognize you, you know:  you’ll be the one in the “transitional” outfit, right?

– E Doyle

Oops!

Don’t you just love it when a dignified, serious person makes a blunder?  Com’on.  Admit it.  I mean as long as it’s not your surgeon who is doing some local-anesthesia work on your person.  “Oops,” is the last word – possibly literally – you’ll want to hear.  But nothing so dramatic here.  I’m talking about dignified, professional, serious musicians.   I collect these anecdotes and imagine others, so allow me to open my treasure chest of oops moments.

First, there’s the trumpet player.  He’s doing wonderful things, finding tones, hitting every note with clarity and verve and then – wait for it – his mute gets away from him and goes rolling gleefully across the stage for all the world to see.  Yes, there’ll be a few titters and giggles from the audience, but the musician, like the true professional he is, simply walks over and picks the damn thing up and carries on.  Now that’s class.

And there’s not a cellist alive who hasn’t had a string break in the middle of a concert.  Of course, if it’s one of the bass strings and goes ka-blooey, it can remove his glasses, scratch his face and cause a really awful moment.  He can’t just carry on.  He’ll just have to sit there or try to play on three strings or just forget the whole thing and walk off to find a replacement string.

…there’s not a cellist alive who hasn’t had a string break in the middle of a concert.

But here’s my own recurring nightmare:  I’m a timpanist in a big, important orchestra with a grand and renowned conductor.  Not permitted to thump the kettle drums or even rat-a-tat the snare, I am given the lowly triangle and told, sternly, to follow the music very carefully.  This I diligently do.  So there I am, standing up with my triangle shining elegantly in my left hand and my little wand in my right, counting carefully for my big moment.  And I’m off by one beat.  I’m off by one beat.  It can’t be.  I’m off by ONE lousy beat.  And everybody, I mean everybody knows.  The grand and renowned conductor shoots me a look that would knock a pigeon off an electric line and the timpanist standing next to me gently removes the elegant triangle from my hand so that I can do no further damage and I sit down and try to make myself as small as possible.   It could have been worse, I guess:  I could have dropped the triangle right into the horn in front of me.  It could have been worse.  It could have happened, and I’m just the person it would have happened to.

Of course, I am not a timpanist and I’ve never even been close to a triangle, but I was sufficiently musically embarrassed in my misspent youth to convince myself that I should find a career other than music performance.  I was a member of a folk group – remember those?  I know I’m dating myself, but really, it was a lot of fun.  I was also working at a local television station, writing what is called “continuity.”  That’s all the stuff that’s thrown in so that there is no dreaded “dead air.”  Anyway, the lady who was host of the daytime show invited me to sing on her show, demonstrating the desperation daytime hosts feel when trying to fill a time slot.  So, with my trusty Nuevo Laredo guitar in hand, I sat before the camera and launched into a piece I had done a million times.  You may remember it, if you’re old enough:  “In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…”  Well, the lyrics were pretty simple, the melody straightforward and I was on cruise control.  Until I got to the end and the song (and Peter, Paul and Mary, if memory serves), launch into “Wee-mo-way, wee-mo-way.”  So I launched into “Wee-mo-way,” but I couldn’t get un-launched.   Panic set in.  How am I going to end this?  What comes next?  So I tried to just kind of let my wobbly voice drift off into the void and bowed my head.  It was a brief career, but brilliant.

I was sufficiently musically embarrassed in my misspent youth to convince myself that I should find a career other than music performance.

I have a friend who’s a clarinetist and had a reed break in the middle of Cole Porter.  Of course, he had another reed, but there in front of the whole world had to extract it from his pocket, run it through his mouth a time or two and then install it in the clarinet.  Maybe no one noticed, but I’ll bet they did.

I don’t think there’s a musician alive who hasn’t had an “oops” moment, and maybe they can laugh about them, but I’m certain that – just like my wee-mo-way moment – they’ve never forgotten them.

And speaking of forgetting things and oops moments, don’t forget to get your tickets for the stellar season of 2018-19.  You don’t want to find yourself on October 7, when the Brentano String Quartet performs with world renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw, slapping yourself on the forehead and saying, “Oops!”

– E Doyle

…And Beethoven smiled

You’ve seen the drawings of Beethoven:  unsmiling, looking somewhat suspicious of the world, hair that looks as though it has endured many years of mismanagement and finger-combing.  He doesn’t really look like a happy man.  His visage is just short of a scowl.  This is the familiar Beethoven, but last Sunday (April 15, 2018) at the Orion String Quartet concert, there was a different Beethoven.  I caught a glimpse of him, perched on the organ bench – and he was – wait for it – smiling.  He was pleased at what he heard; he liked what the gentlemen of Orion had done with his String Quartet No. 14.  Okay, he didn’t actually slap his knee, but he did tap his foot.  Really.

So what did Orion do that made the master smile?  Simple.  They played the composition as it was intended to be played:  with emotion, with soul-felt love for each beautiful note, with enthusiasm and joy for the complexities of the composition.  (I’m reasonably certain that Sebastian Currier and Anton Dvořák were also enjoying this concert, perhaps perched on the crossbeams of this beautiful old church.)

I’m reasonably certain that Sebastian Currier and Anton Dvořák were also enjoying this concert, perhaps perched on the crossbeams of this beautiful old church.

Why is it that some groups do a perfectly workmanlike job of playing these wonderful musical compositions and others bring a special quality that goes beyond mere artistry to a profound understanding of the work and the ability to express the composer’s notes allowing the audience to rejoice with them?   Well, that’s Orion.  Thirty years together this group, so they communicate with one another on the level of performance DNA.

They take their name from Greek mythology.  Orion the Hunter, Orion the Warrior, Orion which can be seen from almost any point on earth.  The Quartet is cutting-edge in its interpretation of contemporary works (therefore, the sword) and muscular in its interpretation of the classics.  The four gentlemen of Orion have been visible and praised in every corner of the world and their reputation gleams and glitters in the musical firmament.  Besides performers, they are also teachers, generously passing their skills to a new generation of violinists, violists, cellists and string quartets.

We of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society are thankful that their light shone on us for one memorable Sunday afternoon and I am perfectly certain that Beethoven, Currier and Dvořák enjoyed the music, too!

And while we’re talking enjoying music, have a look at next season, the 76th.  You will find music to enjoy, but only if you subscribe.  The cost is the same, students and active duty military are still admitted free and I am certain that you will find some smile-worthy Sunday entertainment.

– E Doyle

Review: The Brass Masters

You could have spent last Sunday glued to the television and watching the Oscar hoopla – or you could have enjoyed some real talent at the American Brass Quintet concert.  You could have paid homage to the little gold-plated statue at the Oscars – or you could have enjoyed some real, honest-to-goodness brass, learned something about canons (no, not the kind that fire cannon balls) and listened to music and poetry that go right to the heart.  You could have.

Just in case someone stole your pickup truck with your favorite hound in it, or Aunt Mattie over in Floresville was stuck in a tree, or your flu had come back so bad you couldn’t raise your head from the pillow – just in case, you poor soul, you missed this concert, I’ll be kind and tell you what you missed:

First there’s just the sound, the Temple-filling, soul-filling sound of five brass instruments.  Think about this:  can you imagine what honey or molten gold would sound like if they could sound?  Well, that’s what these five instruments in concert sounded like.  The tones and the harmonies blended and then flowed separately, then blended again.  You would have heard centuries’ worth of songs, music that would have been familiar to Queen Elizabeth I or King James I; music that would have been heard in old St. Petersburg; music that celebrates the common man and the joy of the everyday in the 20th century.

Can you imagine what honey or molten gold would sound like if they could sound?  Well, that’s what these five instruments in concert sounded like.

And there was a special treat:  music composed around a breathtakingly poignant poem by Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio’s own poet laureate.  The poem spoke ever so simply and ever so eloquently of the river, our river and, as recited by the author, it would have just broken your heart.  The music, composed by James Balentine, was equally simple and eloquent.  Performed as it was by this particular group, the music spun out the story of the poem in a universal language of pure beauty.  By the way, it was also a world premiere of the work and was commissioned for San Antonio’s 300th birthday. Take that, Hollywood!

And then the canons of the 16th century.  Imagine the great castle halls and the cathedrals with this glorious music resounding in the vast spaces.  Imagine the pleasure of following the musical lines through their twists and turns, counterpoints and harmonies, understanding the inherent structure where there seems to be none.  How do they do that?  I think it’s magic, pure and simple.  Finally, the composition by American composer Eric Ewazen, a work dedicated to the American Brass Quintet on the occasion of their 30th anniversary, demonstrated the artistry and complete versatility of these five musicians.  In three movements, the music went from languid to playful to joyous to sonorous.  Pick your adverb; it was all of that and more.

Michael Powell, the ABQ trombonist, described brass players as “plumbers,” since their artistry depends on pipes and tubes and conduits, but I assure you that if the ABQ are plumbers, then I am in line for a Pulitzer.  Just sayin’. No, these gentlemen, all teachers of the next generation of premiere artists, are truly brass masters.  Don’t say I didn’t tell you…

In three movements, the music went from languid to playful to joyous to sonorous. Pick your adverb; it was all of that and more.

And don’t forget the last concert of this exceptional, sparkling season:  the Orion String Quartet, a group that has become the standard of excellence in the world of chamber music, will perform April 15th at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church, 227 W. Woodlawn (corner Belknap).  Buy Aunt Mattie a ladder and be there!

– E Doyle

 

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