Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio was conceived over wine and single malt scotch on a night in March 2008 with Silvia Santinelli and Robert Ehlers, said Artistic Director Paul Montalvo.
“We started performing concerts in 2012 at the Pearl, and moved to the Tobin in 2014 when it opened,” Montalvo said while drinking water during a recent interview. “We want to not only attract the usual classical music listeners and attendees, but people who’ve never heard this music.”
Parts of the chamber's mission includes the search for beauty through triumphant contrast – to make us want to move, and yet call for stillness, to create music that enriches, uplifts and empowers people. These local musicians are blazing new trails for an art form that is taking on a greater dimension in San Antonio.
Such a philosophy has led the Chamber, which announced its third season at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts this week, to embark upon fantastic musical cross-pollinations, while staying rooted in its tradition.
One can witness the roots this Saturday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m., when the Chamber performs a selection of composers Javier Álvarez, Philip Glass, and Max Richter in an evening aptly named A Minimal (Re)Composition, a play on the composers approach of orchestral minimalism.
“Our mission also entails performing rarely heard pieces, known or unknown,” Montalvo said. “This program is put together to attract people who really like the avant-garde movement: a lot of young people.”
Concertmaster Francisco Fullana of Spain, in his mid 20s, will be the featured soloist this Saturday, allowing audience members to be transported back to 1697, the year his “Rainville” Stradivarius violin was engineered.
“What blows my mind is that the performing arts only exists at the time it’s happening,” Montalvo said. “One can go on the internet now, click on a song once performed, but they couldn’t do that back then – it’s just raw in the moment.”
Outside of the concert hall, the Chamber is hungry for collaboration, evidenced by events such as Savor the Music on June 28 at the St. Anthony Hotel, which will bring together the upper crust of culinary arts alongside symphonic masters for an oral/aural menu that delights the senses.
“We let the chef listen to the string quartet that the patrons will experience, to inspire each plate,” Montalvo said. “Then the musicians perform, setting up the palate, and eat alongside the attendees. It’s quite the incredible experience.”
Much like Troy Peters and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, Montalvo believes in investing in the education of the city's young people.
“The (Chamber) Music Institute is a summer program now, but our goal is to make this a year-long program for students,” Montalvo said of the program that features concerts, workshops, lecture recitals and intensive training. “An average of 90% financial aid is given to our applicants, all are considered.”
The extended deadline is May 23 for any final applicants. Click here for more information.
Bridging the gap between teenage, aspiring musicians and the classical music audience, the novel concepts of the Chamber's Millennial Committee are helping to bring events like the Piano Kegger 2.0 to a generation that seems to thrive on vibrant and sensory-shocking demonstrations of art and culture.
“The role of the Millennial Committee is to reach younger crowds, and create awareness that classical music is not boring and it can collaborate with all art forms,” said Mariana Vela, co-chair of the Millennial Committee.
The first Piano Kegger, which took place on May 6, was the San Antonio debut of an event organized by composer Nathan Felix in Austin, and took place in the rustic attic-chic space of Renewable Republic, an urban sustainability/live/work development on the south side of downtown near Mission Park.
“We weren’t sure how people were going to take this,” Vela said of the elaborate collaboration, which brought six pianos into the living room and art space of Renewable Republic’s owners. “Since Nathan had already established it, we wanted to see how the younger crowd would like it, and they loved it so we’re working on some future renditions.”
At the time the idea was born, Nathan Felix was living in Los Angeles, and witnessed an opera called “Invisible Cities” that was being performed in the train station.
“This drew me towards removing the experience from the stage, no gap between the audience,” Felix said via phone from Austin. “It’s like a campfire, so to speak. We are all creators, why not just all share in the communal experience?”
The feeling in the room during the first Piano Kegger was indeed communal, and one of palpable passion, as Felix hushed the audiences in order to appreciate the fullness of the artists hailing from four unique continents.
“I could say much more with more than one piano. (I) wanted to make it surround sound,” Felix said of his masterful composition for six pianos. “I can just close my eyes and the piano fills the whole room-the ambiance of it, the reverb, the echo- from literally all angles.”
The dark-haired stylist in jacket lay jaggedly beside the bright-eyed hippie in flowing flowers, lovers and soon to be lovers drew the spaces tighter and tighter as soon the breath of your neighbor could be felt on your neck as you huddled still closer in Indian-style on the floor, pianos above. And so the harmonious sound rained down, rang ‘round in euphony, euphoria splendid all the more when kept inside the body, absorbed and marinated upon so all the juices are tasted. Silence persisted in the human voice, quieted by the sheer magnitude of the possibility of 528 keys, working in relationship to create balance through tension and release. Just like that, music transcended and all souls present, regardless of age or background or taste or design, felt it.
Montalvo likens this movement in classical music, this new appreciation, to an adage by Tim Paige that says: “What may seem old-fashioned at one point in history, can become radical and strangely new at another point in time.”
We see it in the escape of those who wear Jazz Age zoot suits and the 21st century iterations of Shakespeare and Aeschylus, the back-to-the-earth movement of paleos and herbal healers and forgotten remedies that connect us once again to ourselves.
“In an over-abundance of pop-culture people of all intellects are looking for something outside of that to feed their souls,” Montalvo said. “What’s truly going to leave people, as they walk away from the concert, feeling that? They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they’re feeling it.”
Top image: The Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio performs their inaugural concert at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Courtesy of COSA.