According to Confucius, leading communities are distinguished by the greatness of their "Wen," arts of peace, and these communities win each other over not by military or economic strength but through the creation and transmission of great music, poetry, and art.
To put it more simply, Confucius would probably agree that the city that plays together, stays together or at the very least encourages their friend to check out the great show.
If Confucius were to visit San Antonio in 2013, he would be sorely disappointed in the lack of great Peking Duck but he would probably be encouraged by the growth of our city’s Wen.
Beginning their season of bringing melodious sounds to the good people of San Antonio and the surrounding Hill County, Camerata San Antonio seeks to wed the beauty of classical performance with a smaller, more intimate setting and greater performer creativity.
Camerata was founded by Kenneth Freudigman, principal cellist of the San Antonio Symphony, adjunct professor at UTSA, and Symphony Conductor of the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio YOSA (try putting all of that on a business card) and his wife, Emily Watkins Freudigman, the assistant principal violinist of the San Antonio Symphony and private strings teacher. Camerata is one of the city’s premier professional ensembles.
A decade after its founding, Camerata’s success is a picture perfect example of San Antonio’s growing passion for supporting the arts. It’s genesis was initially rooted in the musicians need to make ends meet during the Symphony’s 2003 blackout season.
“We started 10 years ago in the dark year of the Symphony and we sat down with some friends to decide whether we were going to make a go of it or head to greener pastures. That (first) year we put on 11 performances at Travis Park, and we employed 34 of the symphony’s 76 players,” said Artistic Director Fruedigman as we discussed the ensemble’s upcoming year in the shadow of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, San Antonio’s latest $200 million commitment to the arts.
“We were not sure where it was going to go. We did it just to keep playing that year. Ten years later, I am overjoyed at the success. Over that time, we have hosted 129 concerts, played for 20,000 kids through our education program, and performed 284 individual works. If we were on your iPod, you would be looking at three months of us on shuffle,” he said.
Now that Symphony has recovered – for the most part – Camerata operates as one of the city’s five professional ensembles, separate from the Symphony, including SOLI Chamber Ensemble, The Olmos Ensemble, San Antonio Brass and Musical Offerings. Each group fills its ranks with high quality performers dedicated to performance and taking classical music to typically under-reached areas of the city.
SOLI will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in October. Stay tuned for a story next week.
According to Ken, Camerata’s focus is to educate students on the benefits of classical music in parts of the city where strings programs are not readily accessible.
“We have performed for students in Edgewood, Harlandale, ECISD, NEISD, Judson, South San, Boerne, NISD, AHISD, and SAISD. We try to get all over the city ... When we first started, we worked primarily with the Edgewood Fine Arts Academy where there was no strings program. We just kept going back and the kids got really excited and eventually they (the kids) lobbied the district to start a strings program. Programs in those neighborhoods aren’t normal or readily accessible, so going into areas where kids need it the most is one of our greatest joys. Music is not an easy life but for many it can be a way out of poverty.”
Not only has Camerata introduced good music to children who need it most, but through its performances the musicians also are working to change the public’s perception that classical music is hackneyed and stuffy.
“There is or can be a sense of classical music is this very scary thing and you have to dress, act and clap a certain way. But I really think it is very accessible and (through our music) we try to break down those walls. We have often had contests where the audience is laughing out loud with us.”
Like its bigger brother, the Symphony, Camerata San Antonio is highly respected among classical enthusiasts around the country, being joined on stage by top performers around the globe and even receiving two Latin Grammy nominations for its 2009 début album- Salon Buenos Aires: Music of Miguel del Aguila.
While the group’s members hail from around the country and could be earning a much higher wage performing in Houston and Dallas where symphony players are paid 3-4 times more, they have dedicated themselves to San Antonio and to changing the way classical music is viewed throughout South Texas.
And it might be paying off.
“With the mayor’s 2020 initiative, the growth of the River Walk, and what is happening with all of the new building going north toward the Pearl, once the Tobin Center is complete, this area is going to become a Mecca for great Art. We are on the edge of a Renaissance in San Antonio,” he said. “ I can’t wait to see what happens when more housing goes up down here and when the street cars are added. I am juiced.”
And while you still might have to wait another year to go before you can enjoy San Antonio’s musical resurgence from the acoustic grandeur of the Tobin Center, you can certainly wet your classical appetite this weekend as Camerata opens its season with three performances of "10th and 100th."
“The performance celebrates our 10th anniversary and Benjamin Britten’s 100th and we are playing what probably is one of the single most important string quartets written in the 20th century. It was written in 1945 after Britten returned from Germany where he played for concentration camp survivors. When he came back he wrote this quartet and a lot of the pain and pathos he experienced are in it.”
If you are interested in hearing this great work or are just looking to spread a little bit of San Antonio’s Wen by celebrating great music, check out Camerata’s website for information on show times and ticket costs.
John Burnam is a nonprofit consultant currently working with San Antonio Christian Dental, Eyecare San Antonio, The Louise Batz Foundation for Bedside Advocacy, and The San Antonio Non-Profit Council. He works in patient safety, community health and well-being, and nonprofit development. He graduated with a degree in Classics and Art History from Trinity University and a Masters of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt before returning to SA last summer. Interested parties can learn more at: www.johnburnamconsulting.com.
(Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group has performed consulting services for the San Antonio Symphony, where Camerata musicians also perform.)