Chamber Music to Lift the Spirits of San Antonio Audiences Throughout 2019-20 Season

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(From left) Zhang Jianzhen and Chen Yan perform in Musical Bridges Around the World's program "Gems of China" at San Fernando Cathedral.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) Zhang Jianzhen and Chen Yan perform in Musical Bridges Around the World's program "Gems of China" at San Fernando Cathedral in January 2018.

Dedicated fans of classical music witnessed a grand opening to the 2019-2020 season with the San Antonio Symphony’s version of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts stage was filled to its edges with 250 orchestra musicians, choristers, soloists and conductor performing together.

But for those who seek a less populous, more intimate experience of classical music, the chamber music season offers plentiful opportunities to see and hear small ensembles perform close-up. Musical offerings range from the standard classical repertoire including Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms, to music so new the composers’ ink is hardly dry.

Below is a survey of the 2019-2020 chamber music season in San Antonio, which begins Sunday. Click on the links below to jump to highlights from each ensemble’s specific upcoming season. Note: The upcoming Classical Music Institute season was detailed in a recent Rivard Report article, accessible by clicking here.

Please check individual websites for further details on season programming and ticket information.

SOLI Chamber Ensemble

During what she described as an “angry summer” when every political issue seemed to find opposing sides unable to agree on even basic truths, clarinetist Stephanie Key needed some relief.

Key and cellist husband David Mollenauer, who together make up one half of the SOLI Chamber Ensemble quartet, took to the Grand Tetons for some climbing. Not only did that mountaineering trip produce the dramatic mountaintop cover photo of SOLI’s new season brochure, but also the thematic inspiration for programming the season-long slate of compositions.

The SOLI Chamber Ensemble is clarinetist Stephanie Key, cellist David Mollenauer, violinist Ertan Torgul and pianist Carolyn True

Courtesy / SOLI Chamber Emsemble

The SOLI Chamber Ensemble is made up of clarinetist Stephanie Key, cellist David Mollenauer, violinist Ertan Torgul, and pianist Carolyn True

The 2019-2020 season, collectively titled “Rarified Air,” begins with the sounds of nature (the “Nature’s Voices” program Oct. 14-15),  and ends in an eclectic storm (“Electrified Air” May 18-19). The program in between, “Winds of Change,” Feb. 10-11, charts the evolution of new music through the current era.

The “Nature’s Voices” program title is literal, with composer Steven Snowden’s Land of the Living incorporating an actual golden barrel cactus plucked by composer-in-residence Yvonne Freckmann. A contact microphone turns the cactus into a musical instrument.

Freckmann’s own commissioned piece, Nest, uses recordings of cicadas and other creatures on a ranch south of San Antonio, and Red River by composer Mason Bates features field recordings from along the length of the Colorado River.

The “Winds of Change” program starts with a world premiere by Lukas Ligeti, son of notable contemporary composer György Ligeti, and ends with a lament by Syrian composer Kinan Azmeh, reflecting on the loss of his homeland. Azmeh’s The Fence, The Rooftop And The Distant Sea “is a piece of longing, basically. These things that remind him … of a place that you can no longer go, that separation that’s beyond your choice, and what that does to us emotionally,” Key said.

Grammy winner D.J. Sparr co-curated the final program of the season with Key to begin with a world premiere of a commissioned work so new that SOLI hasn’t seen it yet.“That’s the beauty of commissioning, it’s like Christmas morning! You get to open this package and see what they’ve got for you,” Key said.

Commissioning new music has been a key part of SOLI’s mission since its beginnings in 1994. Of over 100 pieces commissioned over the last 25 years, “there isn’t a dud among them,” she said, and “we have all this repertoire now to pay forward.”Only one piece of music to be performed during the season was written by a composer who’s no longer alive. But Synoecy by Robert Ceely, Key’s mentor at the New England Conservatory, serves as an anchor for the entire “Rarified Air” season, “sculpted” by Key as a means to “lift our audience … to give them that clarity, and lift them up and out of the congestion of our time.”

The title Synoecy refers to two typically opposing sides with nothing much in common, Key said, which she sees as nature versus technology, expressed in the piece as the “natural” clarinet against electronic and synthesized sounds. In the 1970s and ’80s when Ceely wrote the composition, “they really had nothing in common and butted up against each other a lot. Slowly over the course of the piece, they learn how to live together. They’re not intermingled, they’re not one, but they’ve learned how to live side by side.”

Click here to return to the main San Antonio chamber season list.

Agarita

Incorporating non-musical elements is a central feature of the Agarita piano and string quartet’s 2019-20 season.

The Oct. 12 free concert at San Antonio College, “San Antonians through a Musical Lens,” focuses on local personalities in collaboration with photographer and videographer Natalia Sun. Poetry and spoken word figure in the Nov. 2 Muertitos Fest con Música at SAY Sí, featuring young spoken word artists, and the Feb. 8 “Stanzas of Sound” concert at The Woman’s Club of San Antonio with Laura Van Prooyen, winner of a runner-up People’s Choice Artist Foundation grant.

In concert with sculptor Danville Chadbourne’s solo exhibition at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), Agarita will perform “Synergy: Music and Sculpture” on Mar. 7 during Contemporary Art Month.

Fashion designer Nilgun Derman of Niche Clothing Company joins Agarita “on a journey through time” for “Sewn Together: Music and Fashion throughout the Ages,” May 28 at the new Texas Public Radio headquarters in the renovated Alameda Theater building. The final collaboration of the season will be with a space: “Animating Space with Sound” promises to enliven the reverberant space of the Chapel of the Incarnate Word in new and unexpected ways on Jun. 13.

All Agarita 2019-20 season concerts are free and open to the public.

Click here to return to the main San Antonio chamber season list.

Musical Bridges Around the World

Musical Bridges Around the World (MBAW) has found a home in the resonant space of the San Fernando Cathedral, with free Sunday evening concerts Oct. 27, Dec. 8, and Feb. 23.

Given MBAW’S mission of “uniting people one concert at a time,” recent controversies between Russia and the United States inform the first concert of the season, which features the Russian String Orchestra and Russian cellist Nina Kotova.

Fiendishly skilled” Spanish accordionist Victor Prieto visits for the December concert, and guests Avi Avital (mandolin) and Bridget Kibby (harp) visit from Israel in February.

The intensity of the Gurwitz International Piano Competition 2020 occurs in between, with Round One beginning Jan. 27, and the Grand Finale featuring the three selected finalists performing with the Symphony on Feb. 1. That event is ticketed, and MBAW offers members-only concerts prior to each free public concert at the Cathedral.

Check the MBAW website for further information and details on memberships and donation levels.

Click here to return to the main San Antonio chamber season list.

San Antonio Chamber Music Society

Israel also figures into the San Antonio Chamber Music Society season, with a visit by the “impassioned, fiery” Ariel String Quartet on Nov. 10. The Symphony’s Principal Clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg will join for the concert. The Ariel Quartet is one among a “Constellation of Stars,” as the Society refers to its 77th season of presenting chamber music in San Antonio. Other performers include Apollo’s Fire, a 15-member baroque orchestra from Cleveland, for the season-opening concert Oct. 6; the Akropolis Reed Quintet, featuring clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, alto saxophone, and oboe, on Jan. 26; eight-member British vocal ensemble VOCES8 on Mar. 1; and the Grammy-winning Parker String Quartet on April 26.

All performances take place at Temple Beth El, with information on tickets and season subscriptions available here.

Click here to return to the main San Antonio chamber season list.

Camerata San Antonio

The Camerata San Antonio string quartet travels its classical repertoire along a triangle between the First United Methodist Church in Boerne, Schreiner University in Kerrville, and UIW in San Antonio, with a six-concert season beginning Sept. 27 in Boerne and ending Mar. 29 in San Antonio.

In its programs, Camerata offers a range from classical standards such as Tchaikovsky and Schumann, to less familiar figures such as Jean Françaix and August Klughardt. Blueprint by living composer Caroline Shaw, winner of a 2013 Pulitzer Prize, is featured in the March 21-29 concerts.

Like the Symphony, Camerata will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth on Feb. 16 with three Sonatas for Violin and Piano (No. 2, No. 5, and No. 9) featuring pianist Viktor Valkov.

Camerata performs each program three times in its three locations, for voluntary donations in Boerne, with tickets required for Kerrville and San Antonio performances.

Click here to return to the main San Antonio chamber season list.

San Antonio Chamber Choir

The San Antonio Chamber Choir celebrates its 15th anniversary with “Once Upon A Song,” a season of quintessentially American themes: Mark Twain, Christmas, movies, and Earth Day.

The season opens Sept. 28-29 with The Great American Songbook with Mark Twain, featuring American music pioneer Stephen Foster, folk singer Pete Seeger, Yankee Doodle, and a special appearance by San Antonio actor Allan Ross as Twain.

The San Antonio Chamber Choir during a recent rehearsal. Courtesy photo.

Courtesy / San Antonio Chamber Choir

The San Antonio Chamber Choir rehearses in 2015.

The “LIGHT (Living In Glorious Heavenly Truth)” concerts Dec. 19 and 21 celebrate the holidays with Bach, Ralph Vaughan Williams, a mass for double chorus, and holiday carols, and the “At the Movies” program of Feb. 9 teams with the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) to celebrate the Academy Awards with movie music.

The Chamber Choir season closes May 2-3 with “On a Clear Day: Celebrating the Gifts of Our Earth,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and featuring art and poetry by local students.

The Chamber Choir performs at various concert venues. Locations and ticket information is available here.

Click here to return to the main San Antonio chamber season list.

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