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Pul-Leeze!

‘Tis The Season For Giving

Be generous to your favorite non-profits – and we hope we are on your list! Help us keep the world-class music coming!

Tell me it’s not the Holiday Season again. Tell me the calendar’s wrong and a whole month has been omitted. Tell me that, if I just close my eyes and click my heels together, it will be March or April. Does someone expect ME to bring toys, casseroles, pies or whatever to a gathering? Me? Have you ever tasted my home-cooked meals? And decorations: I have to haul everything down from the attic and try to figure out how to put it all together again. As for gifts, I know I’ll spend a fortune on stupid, useless things that no one really wants.

Do I sound like the Grinch? Well, I’m sorry, but it is what it is. I’ll bet some of you agree, although you might not admit it. 

Do I sound like the Grinch?  Well, I’m sorry, but it is what it is. I’ll bet some of you agree, although you might not admit it. Are you still caught up in the idea of carolers trekking through the snow in their Victorian apparel to sing at your front door in glorious harmony? C’mon! It doesn’t snow in San Antonio, and if you see someone walking down Houston Street in top hats and satin dresses, they probably just recovered from a Halloween party.

And the little kids with their rosy cheeks and wide eyes? Sorry. They’re busy with their electronics and can’t be bothered with toy trains and dolls. Are you actually roasting a turkey this year? Well, I tried that, and, believe me, it goes a lot better if you remember to take the plastic bag full of gizzards out of the turkey first… As for pies, I can give you the name of some really good bakeries.

Before you go absolutely around the bend, please put a CD in your player. Not Christmas music, pul-eeze:  there’s enough of that in elevators! No, something like the Ariel String Quartet playing Mozart. 

So there.  I’ve said all I can about the wonders of the holiday season – except for one small item.  Before you go absolutely around the bend, please put a CD in your player.  Not Christmas music, pul-eeze:  there’s enough of that in elevators!  No, something like the Ariel String Quartet playing Mozart.  Find a comfortable spot, close your eyes and just enjoy. You’ll feel so much calmer, I guarantee. Oh, and when the music ends and you’re ready to face the over-cooked turkey, the lumpy potatoes, the pie that fell apart and that string of lights that only lit every other one – before you’re ready to do the Happy Holidays Shuffle again, remember:  someone appreciates and needs you.  Yes, you.

We, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society, we appreciate your faithful attendance at our concerts, we love your generosity that keeps those concerts coming each season for all these years and we look forward to seeing you (or whatever’s left) at our January 26th concert.  By then, you should be sufficiently recovered from the holidays to enjoy the Akropolis Reed Quintet, right?  Help us keep the Sunday afternoon concerts coming and – oh, yes: Happy Holidays!

– E Doyle

The Making of a Musician

If you have read the posting by Allyson Dawkins, our Outreach and Education Chair, you already know we sponsor Monday concerts and classes at local schools; I know she has written about our last venture which was very successful, but I’d like to tell you my impression of the magic that happened in the school gym.

This elementary school accepts children who may require some help in addition to the regular standard curriculum. The Ariel String Quartet members (two violinists, a violist and a cellist) had performed a magnificent concert the day before, and they were ready, willing and most able to take on an audience that ranged in age from 7 to 10.  It was quite a cold morning, this Veterans’ Day, and the children were bundled up as they filed in from the playground where there had been a special commemoration to mark the day.  They were arranged by their teachers in rows, seated on the floor, and there was a hush of anticipation as the musicians tuned their instruments.

As they began to play, I surveyed the audience – fully expecting to see someone pinching a neighbor or whispering secrets, but they were quiet.  Then I noticed a young man in the first row.  His elbow rested on his knee and his chin rested on his hand as he leaned slightly forward.  He never moved.  I’m not sure he even blinked his eyes.  He was, to me, the Norman Rockwell personification of a boy who was completely caught in the gold and silver threads of the music.  I thought, as I watched him, so rapt, so attentive, “This is how musicians are made.”

I thought, as I watched him, so rapt, so attentive,
“This is how musicians are made.”

There were another two grades of young children who were ushered in by their teachers, and this group included a little bespectacled boy who sat by the door and commenced a Classic Meltdown.  He wept, he hollered, he banged his heels on the floor.  As the musicians began their concert, he became quiet and, after a while, I noticed he had crept closer to the main group, moving stealthily on hands and knees until he reached a few feet from the last row of children.  There he sat and, was he listening?  I couldn’t say for sure, but his head moved back and forth in time to the rhythm of the music.  Something had gotten through to this little fellow and I wished his parents could see the transformation that the music, classical music, had wrought.

I think we all know the magic of music:  how it makes us forget the every day, how it can ease worries and smooth the brows.  And how it can affect even rambunctious little boys, at least for a little while.  These two may never pick up a violin or write a score, but they may be future members of our audiences.  Like you and me.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all, and be sure to mark January 26 on your new 2020 calendar.  That’s the date of our next concert, the Akropolis Reed Quintet.

– E Doyle

A Musical Conversation

We often speak of chamber music as being a conversation among musicians.  In order to carry on an interesting conversation there is respect one for the other, contributions from one or another that carry the conversation forward and a sense of commonality, community and harmony.  So when you are privileged to hear such a conversation rendered in music, it’s easy to imagine that this is precisely what the composer had in mind.  Such was the musical conversation we heard last Sunday, the 10th of November.  The Ariel String Quartet, augmented but never overpowered by the artistry of San Antonio Symphony Principal Clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg, performed not just intensely, but interestingly.

 The Quartet led off with Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8.  The Program Notes said that in July, 1960, he was supposed to write the score of a film about the horrible firebombing of Dresden; instead, he composed the achingly sad Quartet No. 8 which he dedicated to victims of war.   Somewhere at the depth of this performance, I reflected on the nationalities of the artists – not something that usually draws my attention.  But the fact that they represented cultures that had been scarred by war made the music all the more poignant.  The two Largo movements, performed with so much soul (for want of a better word) were simply heart-breaking.

For the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and for the Weber Clarinet Quintet, Ariel was joined by a master of the clarinet, Ilya Shterenberg.

For the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and for the Weber Clarinet Quintet, Ariel was joined by a master of the clarinet, Ilya Shterenberg.  To the great good fortune of San Antonio, Mr. Shterenberg is a major artist in our own Symphony Orchestra and it was a pleasure to experience his magic at such close range. He has performed with the Ariel previously and knows each musician and this friendship was evident in the blending and joyful conversations among the quartet and the virtuoso.

Finally, the Ariel Quartet performed a very familiar composition, Schubert’s Quartet in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”).  They didn’t just dust if off and launch into the well-known movements; they made it their own, interpreting Schubert’s lyricism and bringing this beautiful composition to life.  The saddest aspect of this music was not the death of the young girl but the death of the composer, at age 31, shortly after this complex and masterful expression of genius was written.

Continuing this stellar season of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society, we invite you to join us for the Akropolis Reed Quintet Sunday, January 26, 2020, at 3:15 p.m.  The prize-winning Akropolis is an ensemble of five young and energetic performers whose performance has been described as “pure gold.”  You may just change your mind about the versatility and artistry of reed instruments!

– E Doyle

Leonardo the Music Lover

If you look, you can find thought-provoking ideas everywhere.  For example, the May 2019 issue of National Geographic which has a sketch of Leonardo da Vinci on the cover has this little gem in Claudia Kalb’s article on the great master:

“Leonardo ranked music as second only to painting, higher even than sculpture, describing it as ‘figurazione delle cose invisibili,’ the shaping of the invisible.”   Claudia Kalb, National Geographic, May 2019, pg. 92.

This quotation spoke to me.  Isn’t that just what great music does?  Regardless of the genre?  Doesn’t music that speaks to your heart, your mind, your very soul perform its magic by putting something that perhaps you haven’t really formulated into words into melody and harmony?  Don’t those lines of music, that particular harmony go to a place within and find there its corresponding chord?  And that, my friends, is the reason we leave our everyday lives to witness and enjoy that unique pleasure that is music.

Take a minute to join me in a little meditation on how music works on us.   First, perhaps, is association.  There is a song performed by the blind tenor, Andrea Boticelli, that from its opening bars brings to mind a remarkable memory of a dear person who has passed away.  I always associate that song with him and it always goes straight to my heart.  Then there’s memory:  sometimes I hear a passage of music that I can’t quite place until I realize that it’s something I learned to play on the piano when I was a child.  And of course, there’s just pleasure with no apparent connection to our memories.  Sometimes I hear something for the first time and it’s just so pleasurable that I smile and make a mental note to try to find a recording.  Music has the power to conjure, just as Leonardo said.  Conjure what?  Colors, scenes, places, desires, ceremonies; I would love to know what it conjured for Leonardo, wouldn’t you?

Music has the power to conjure, just as Leonardo said.  Conjure what?  Colors, scenes, places, desires, ceremonies; I would love to know what it conjured for Leonardo, wouldn’t you?

Music is also a pathway to understanding.  You might never have thought about or really understood the horror that was Stalin, but when you hear Shostokovich’s Symphony No. 9, you will understand not only the courage of the composer but also the terror he endured.  If you want to understand and even visualize the 18th Century world of Vivaldi, you must listen to his music.  Think about the court of Versailles: the rustle of satin, the scent of pomanders, the elaborate wigs – and the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, the composer who, along with Moliére, created the Comédie ballet.  Too exotic?  How about understanding the 1960’s?  Can’t be done without the music of the Beatles.

I hope this just-ended five-concert SACMS season struck that corresponding chord in you.  And I invite you to join us for our 2019-2020 season which begins October 6th, 2019, with Apollo’s Fire.  Come enrich your musical vocabulary, strike your memory chords, stir your heart.

Happy summer to all our friends!

– E Doyle

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

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

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