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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

American String Quartet with Tom Sleigh & Phil Klay Concert

A Special Veterans Day “Extra-Musical” Event

November 11, 2018
Veterans Day
“Lyric in Time of War”

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

American String Quartet

Internationally recognized as one of the world’s finest quartets, the American String Quartet has spent decades honing the luxurious sound for which it is famous. The Quartet will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2019, and, in its years of touring, has performed in all fifty states and has appeared in the most important concert halls worldwide. The group’s presentations of the complete quartets of Beethoven, Schubert, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Mozart have won widespread critical acclaim, and their MusicMasters Complete Mozart String Quartets, performed on a matched quartet set of instruments by Stradivarius, are widely considered to have set the standard for this repertoire.

In 2017-18 the American String Quartet created “Lyric in Time of War”, a major project in collaboration with National Book Award-winner, Iraq War veteran Phil Klay and Academy award-winning poet, war journalist Tom Sleigh in a groundbreaking, culturally significant program combining music and readings that examines the effects of war on people, their hearts, and their minds. Phil is a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, and Tom has reported on the bloody conflicts in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya. Short readings are interspersed with music such as Samuel Barber’s stunning Adagio; Bela Bartók’s March from Quartet No. 6, which captures the unendurable grief of war written in 1940 at the beginning of WWII; Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, a piece famously dedicated to the victims of fascism and war; and Beethoven’s “Serioso”, composed during Napoleon’s invasion of Vienna and a period of serious inner turmoil for the composer. This program offers two perspectives on war; it acknowledges the hardships while recognizing and celebrating the sacrifices made by our veterans.

Phil Klay

Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer. After being discharged he received an MFA from Hunter College of The City University of New York.  Klay’s New York Times-bestselling short story collection won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2014.  Redeployment also received the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s James Webb award for fiction dealing with U.S. Marines or Marine Corps life, the National Book Critics’ Circle John Leonard Award for best debut work in any genre, the American Library Association’s W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, the Chautauqua Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Writing; and was short listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize.  He was also named a National Book Foundation ’5 Under 35′ honoree.  Klay’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Tin House and the Brookings Institution’s Brookings Essay series.

Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh is the author of ten books of poetry, including Army Cats, winner of the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Space Walk which won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Award. In addition, Far Side of the Earth won an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Dreamhouse was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and The Chain was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize. Station Zed was published in 2015 and includes his long poem about Iraq, “Homage to Basho,” a version of which received Poetry Magazine’s Editors Prize.

In 2018 a book of prose collecting his essays on refugees in the Middle East and Africa, The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing In An Age Of Refugees, is being published simultaneously by Graywolf Press as a companion piece to House of Fact, House of Ruin, his latest book of poems. He has also published a previous book of essays, Interview With a Ghost, and a translation of Euripides’ Herakles. Widely anthologized, his poems and prose appear in The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Yale Review, Threepenny, The Village Voice, and other literary magazines, as well as The Best of the Best American Poetry, The Best American Poetry, Best American Travel Writing, and The Pushcart Anthology. He has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, a Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin, a Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, an Individual Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund, a Guggenheim grant, and two National Endowment for the Arts grants, among many others.

He is a Distinguished Professor in the MFA Program at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn. During the last decade, he has also worked as a journalist in Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, and Libya.

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Lyric in Time of War” has been an incredibly successful program all over the country, as it speaks to the very real feelings, fears, and hopes of Americans. In addition, the outreach opportunities are vast: the musicians and authors have worked in VA hospitals, taken questions and bookstores, met with veterans’ groups privately. It’s a way to really make an impact on the community.

The program, around 80 minutes, will be performed without intermission. Readings will take place in between musical movements, creating an exciting and moving sound collage. The concert is a dialogue between the spoken word and music, summoning the power of both to transform and inspire.

Bach: Praeludium in F minor, BWV 857, from the Well-Tempered Clavier
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 8
Bartók: Marcia from Quartet No. 6
Barber: Adagio from Quartet for strings, Op. 11
Beethoven: Quartet in F minor, Op.95, “Serioso”

“The finesse, the thoughtfulness and depth of the performance could not be surpassed.”

Berliner Morgenpost

“Luxurious, beautifully sculptured performances”

The New York Times

Members:

Peter Winograd (violin)
Laurie Carney (violin)
Daniel Av­sha­lo­mov (viola)
Wolfram Koes­sel (cello)
Tom Sleigh (author)
Phil Klay (author)

Program

Lyric in Time of War
The following pieces will be interwoven with readings by Mr. Sleigh and Mr. Klay

BACH
Praeludium in F minor, BWV 857, from the Well-Tempered Clavier

SHOSTAKOVICH
Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

BARTÓK
String Quartet No. 6

BARBER
String Quartet, Op. 11

BEETHOVEN
Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 “Serioso”

Venue

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

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

Brentano String Quartet with Dawn Upshaw Concert

October 7, 2018

Brentano String Quartet

Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim. Within a few years of its formation, the Quartet garnered the first Cleveland Quartet Award and the Naumburg Chamber Music Award; and in 1996 the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center invited them to be the inaugural members of Chamber Music Society Two, a program which was to become a coveted distinction for chamber groups and individuals. The Quartet had its first European tour in 1997, and was honored in the U.K. with the Royal Philharmonic Award for Most Outstanding Debut. That debut recital was at London’s Wigmore Hall, and the Quartet has continued its warm relationship with Wigmore, appearing there regularly and serving as the hall’s Quartet-in-residence in the 2000-01 season. In recent seasons the Quartet has traveled widely, appearing all over the United States and Canada, in Europe, Japan and Australia. It has performed in the world’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York; the Library of Congress in Washington; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Konzerthaus in Vienna; Suntory Hall in Tokyo; and the Sydney Opera House. The Quartet has participated in summer festivals such as Aspen, the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, the Edinburgh Festival, the Kuhmo Festival in Finland, the Taos School of Music and the Caramoor Festival.

Dawn Upshaw

Joining a rare natural warmth with a fierce commitment to the transforming communicative power of music,  Dawn Upshaw has achieved worldwide celebrity as a singer of opera and concert repertoire ranging from the sacred works of Bach to the freshest sounds of today. Her ability to reach to the heart of music and text has earned her both the devotion of an exceptionally diverse audience, and the awards and distinctions accorded to only the most distinguished of artists. In 2007, she was named a Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation, the first vocal artist to be awarded the five-year “genius” prize, and in 2008 she was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. From Salzburg, Paris and Glyndebourne to the Metropolitan Opera, where she began her career in 1984 and has since made nearly 300 appearances, Dawn Upshaw has also championed numerous new works created for her including The Great Gatsby by John Harbison; the Grawemeyer Award-winning opera, L’Amour de Loin and oratorio La Passion de Simone by Kaija Saariaho; John Adams’s Nativity oratorio El Niño; and Osvaldo Golijov’s chamber opera Ainadamar and song cycle Ayre. It says much about Dawn Upshaw’s sensibilities as an artist and colleague that she is a favored partner of many leading musicians, including Gilbert Kalish, the Kronos Quartet, James Levine, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In her work as a recitalist, and particularly in her work with composers, Dawn Upshaw has become a generative force in concert music, having premiered more than 25 works in the past decade. From Carnegie Hall to large and small venues throughout the world she regularly presents specially designed programs composed of lieder, contemporary works in many languages, and folk and popular music. A five-time Grammy Award winner, Dawn Upshaw is featured on more than 50 recordings, including the million-selling Symphony No. 3 by Henryk Gorecki for Nonesuch Records.

“the Brentanos are a magnificent string quartet…This was wonderful, selfless music-making”

London Times

“Upshaw’s instrument has the kind of power, clarity and pure beauty that can transfix a listener.”

The Pioneer Press

Members:

Misha Amory (viola) Serena Canin (violin) Nina Lee (cello) Mark Steinberg (violin) Dawn Upshaw

Program

GESUALDO Two madrigals (from Books V and VI) HAYDN String Quartet in C, Op. 20 No. 2 (Hob. III:32) RESPIGHI Il tramonto (The Sunset), for voice & string quartet, P. 101 -Intermission- SCHOENBERG Quartet No. 2 in F-sharp minor, for string quartet and soprano, Op. 10

Venue

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

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!

…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

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