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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

Leftovers

The holidays have come and gone, and they do so faster each year.  Have you noticed, too?  Seems like I just got the Christmas tree decorated, the wreath up on the door and the cards posted hither and yon (I don’t have nearly as many “hither and yons” as I used to, I noticed).  Now it’s time to pick up the paper and the ribbons, dividing up that which can be re-used and that which goes into the recycler; it’s time to take down the jaunty little tree with its fruit of  precious ornaments, its icicles of foil and my favorite crocheted angles, its chandelier crystals that sparkled in the tiny lights.  And with it all packed away, so goes that very special feeling one has at Christmas time.  It’s the same sense of joyful possibilities I’ve felt since childhood, I confess.  By the first week in January, I’ve settle back into my old habits, the optimism I felt for the old world and its woes has settled into grey reality as I wonder if the furnace will make it through just one more winter. 

…But in hopes that I can capture again some of the fun of seasons past, I offer a re-gifted gift of wasted thyme and other strange and well-seasoned thoughts…

Among the leftovers, though, I found some craziness I had not been able to cram into the blog posts of the old year, and – waste not, want not (or whatnot as the case may be), I’ve made the brave decision not to pack them away, rather to try to find a place for them.  So what follows is a bit like saving a New Year’s champagne cork, trying to work it back into the bottle and hope that the champagne will keep its bubble.  I apologize in advance; I know the champagne’s probably flat and the Christmas turkey should have been made into soup by now.  But in hopes that I can capture again some of the fun of seasons past, I offer a re-gifted gift of wasted thyme and other strange and well-seasoned thoughts:

1)   Have you ever thought about the sound of a spider playing castanets?  Now, add to that a flamingo dancing – of course – flamenco.  If you’re thinking of Berlioz, you’re just cheating!

2)   Do black holes really exist, or are they products of the fevered imagination of some astrophysicist trying to scare us all half to death with the prospect of an enormous vacuum cleaner pulling us ever closer? Bless you, Stephen Hawking.  I wish you could come back and tell us just what a black hole is.  Does it make a terrible sucking sound?  Would it terrify house cats?  Maybe there are millions of little black holes and we live with them not even knowing.  Might explain missing socks and keys….

3)   Does anyone really know how to use Microsoft 10?

4)   Do window washers working on the windows of multi-story buildings ever look down?  I suppose the very brave who have confidence in the scaffolding and the straps might, but why would anyone be up there, squeegee-ing windows?  Perhaps the feeling that they are doing something no one else would dare to try – like playing a Paganini sonata on a borrowed violin, maybe.  Perhaps they fool their minds into believing that the clouds are their friends, or that the people on the street really are just ants.  And you know the old saying that maybe they keep in mind:  it’s not the fall, it’s the landing.

5)   What was the last really good movie you saw?  Was it in color or black and white?

6)   Consider the tango, please.  Of course, we know it’s an institution in Argentina, but how did people imagine that distinctive rhythm and even begin to think they could dance to it let alone write so many variations?   Living in Buenos Aires, I recognized the tango as the music of the latest revolution; it was played, in its many iterations, over and over again when the news was too inflammatory to broadcast, so my association with tango may not be as pleasant as yours.  You enjoy the compositions of Piazzolla and Gardel as sensual, beautiful music.  I grit my teeth and wait for the sound of shattering windows.  It’s all in the associations.

Fear not for we do have some truly exciting, non-re-gifted presents for you.

Well, it’s definitely time to re-cork the champagne.  It may be a bit flat, but mix it with some orange juice and call it mimosa.  Cheers!  Here’s to 2019 and wonderful music to enjoy just as much as flamingos dancing – no, I’m not going there again.  Fear not for we do have some truly exciting, non-re-gifted presents for you. January 27, we present the Cavatina Duo, doing what no one’s ever done before with just a guitar and a flute played by two masters of their instruments.  Furthermore, we bring you the world premiere of “Three Artisans,” a composition by San Antonio’s own master of the guitar, Matthew Dunne.  Shake off the cobwebs and leftovers of 2018 and begin a bright, sparkling season of musical joy.

Best wishes for your own new year!

– E Doyle

The Holiday Bowl

Here we are, just a few days before Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season.  The River will soon be festooned with lights, downtown buildings will sport lights and decorations and cars will sprout antlers and red noses on their hoods.  In my house, there is a slight vibration, a humming sound coming from a kitchen cabinet – and I know what it is.   It is the atoms that make up the special, green pottery bowl; they are quivering with anticipation of their annual holiday turn.

You know there has to be a story here and here it is.  Years ago, I became the current keeper of a large bowl.  It’s an ordinary-looking bowl: made of sturdy pottery, a dark jade green in color and with a wide rim that allows a firm grip.  It holds about 2 quarts, I guess, although I’ve never tested capacity.  I suspect that it may have been one of a set of green pottery bowls, but I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, if it was, it is the sole survivor.

And why is it special, this rather homely green bowl?  Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough.  Then the bowl came down to my mother.  In my recollection of home, the same home where my grandmother had lived, there was a large, walk-in pantry that smelled of spices and contained rows of mysterious glass jars and bins for flour and sugar.  There on a shelf was everything needed for holiday meal preparation: a big, black roaster oven, ample enough for an enormous turkey, the pot that was big enough for a dozen or more potatoes (not to be mistaken for the sweet potato pot); there was the colander you’d need for the green beans; the pie plates for that special pecan pie that only my mother could make; the cut glass dish for the cranberry sauce – and the green pottery bowl.

Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough. 

In my experience, the green pottery bowl was only used to make dressing for the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.  (Some call it “stuffing,” but I think that sounds like something you’d put in a mattress.)   Three or four days before the start of the serious preparation began, slices of bread would be arranged on baking sheets and left in a sunny window to dry out.  Then we’d make corn bread that included a little bacon grease in the mix.  And then someone would be assigned to very carefully lift the green pottery bowl from the pantry shelf and wipe it with a dish towel.  In goes the cut-up bread, in goes the cubed corn bread, in goes the celery and spices, in goes the stock — and the magic begins.           

So now I have made holiday dressing in the green pottery bowl for more than 50 years.  It has traveled the world over with my dishes and pots and pans, but is only taken down from its special place for the creation of dressing.  I suspect that this bowl carries within its pottery some very special spices, some magical ingredient that three generations of women have ingrained into it.  It has a little bit of Ireland, a little bit of Texas farm, a smidge of Bolivia, a taste of Argentina and of Brazil and a cold, cold touch of Quebec stored away in its elemental clay.  This is a bowl that knows its place and its role, and always gives its all to every holiday feast.  It has not a chip or scratch, it has NEVER experienced a dishwasher and will be passed on to yet another generation in my family.  It’s probably not worth the pottery it’s made of, but in my family, it is a treasure.

In these coming days, I will carefully lift the green pottery bowl from its place in the cupboard, wipe it out with a dish towel, think of my mother and grandmother, and start making the world’s best dressing!

I hope you too have a treasure and a tradition to enjoy this holiday season.  And here’s to all the cherished green pottery bowls.  Best wishes from your friends, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.

– 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

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