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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

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

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

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

Cavatina Duo Concert

January 27, 2019

World Premier: this concert will feature a special SACMS-commissioned piece by S.A. composer Matthew Dunne to celebrate the life of the late San Antonio Symphony Principal Flutist Tal Perkes.

 

“Three Artisans” was composed in memory of the flutist Tal Perkes and was inspired by significant passions he held throughout his life. The Painter begins with a pensive musing by the solo flute, and continues with a whimsical and improvisatory gypsy jazz-inspired tune. The Architect is a tightly constructed, organically developed piece that pays homage to his late-inlife pursuit of design and building, while The Flute Player is a tribute to his musical spirit and virtuosity. Tal was an avid traveler, both literally (as his flute career demanded), and intellectually, as his curiosity and interests ranged across an unusually wide spectrum. As a nod to this traveling spirit, each movement has a connection to music from gypsy traditions; midcentury European jazz in the first, a theme inspired by a traditional Romani tune in the second, and Flamenco influences in the third. (Matthew Dunne)

 

Cavatina Duo

The Cavatina Duo – Eugenia Moliner, flute (Spain) and Denis Azabagic, guitar (Bosnia)—has become one of the most impressive combinations of its kind in the world. 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. A Cavatina Duo concert is a musical experience you don’t want to miss.

The Cavatina Duo has captivated audiences with their electrifying performances in such major venues and festivals as Ravinia’s Rising Stars series (Chicago), Da Camera Society (Los Angeles), Aix-en-Provence Summer Festival (France), the National Concert Hall of Taipei (Taiwan), National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing (China), National Flute Convention Gala Concert (USA), the Harris Theater (Chicago), Kolkata International Guitar Festival (India), Foundation Principe Felipe and Palau de la Musica (Spain), among many others.

Radio and television stations in Europe and North America such as WFMT and NPR have broadcast the duo’s performances. They have been the subjects of interviews in international magazines such as Chamber Music America, TodoFlauta (Spain), FluteTalk (USA), Classical Guitar (UK), Guitarra Magazine (web), Soundboard (USA) and Flute—the British Flute Society. They are the first guitar and flute duo to be featured on the covers of both Classical Guitar Magazine (UK) and the cover of FluteTalk (USA)

Cavatina Duo has performed with orchestras and string quartets in Europe, USA, India, South Korea and Mexico including the Chicago Sinfonietta, Traverse Symphony, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Daejeon Philharmonic and the Youth Orchestra of Monterrey, Mexico. In 2010 Cavatina Duo gave the world premier of another work commissioned by them from Alan Thomas, “Concerto for Flute, Guitar and Orchestra,” with the Camerata Serbica at the Guitar Art Festival in Belgrade.

Eugenia Moliner has been acclaimed as “brilliant” by the British Flute Society magazine. She has performed with principal musicians from the Chicago Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony orchestras as well with many chamber ensembles, including the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Civitas Ensemble, Chinese Fine Arts Musicians. This season she will collaborate with the Aspen String Trio. Her discography includes seven CDs.

A prize-winner in twenty-four international competitions, Denis Azabagic has been described as a “virtuoso with flawless technique” by Soundboard Magazine. He has appeared as soloist with orchestras such as the Chicago and Madrid Symphonies, among many others. Azabagic has collaborated with the Chicago Chamber Musicians, the Civitas Ensemble and the Cuarteto Casals. His discography includes twelve CDs, two DVDs and a manual.

“Style, sympathy, and technical aplomb …..it’s doubtful that the Cavatina’s sophisticated and artistic playing could be surpassed!”

Fanfare

“They are first-rate musicians, consummate performers with exquisite musical taste.”

Diane Mitchell, Hemet (CA) Community Concert Association

Members:

Eugenia Moliner (flute)
Denis Azabagic (guitar)

Program

MARAIS
Les Folies d’Espagne

WILLIAMS
Isabel

THOMAS
Fantasy on themes from “La Traviata,” after Krakamp, Briccialdi and Tarrega (Commissioned by
the Cavatina Duo)

-Intermission-

DUNNE
(World Premier)
Three Artisans

PIAZZOLLA
Histoire du Tango

Venue

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

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