San Antonio’s SOLI Chamber Ensemble played the Schnittke trio in the late 1990s. The players were SOLI members Ertan Torgul (violin) and David Mollenauer (cello) and guest violist Ted Allred. In 1999, while driving to the Sierra Grande Music Festival in Truth or Consequences, NM, where he was artistic director, Allred was killed in an auto accident at the age of 43 – a terrible loss. But he left an audible legacy: That same year, SOLI released a CD that included a live recording of the Schnittke performance.
Above: Eric Gratz (violin), Evan Kory (harpsichord), Marilyn DeOliveira (cello), and Mark Teplitsky (flute) collaborated in trio sonatas by Telemann and Bach.Below: A crew from Texas Public Radio occupied the front row to broadcast all three August concerts live on KPAC-FM.
Eric Gratz (violin), Matthew Cohen (viola), and Allan Steele (cello) played Alfred Schnittke’s harrowing String Trio of 1985.
Dog days of August? Cool!
Above: Ilya Shterenberg (clarinet) and Jeff Garza (horn) played selections from Charles Koechlin’s Secrets of a Clarinet Player. Below: Matthew Cohen (viola) and Zhenni Li (piano), co-founders and artistic directors of Philadelphia’s “Fishin’ in C” chamber music series, were among the guest artists.
August 28, 2019
Let’s face it. Staying in San Antonio
in the month of August – any August,
but especially this August – is excellent
training for those of us who plan to
spend eternity with all the best people
in the fiery pit of Hell. Yet, how can
one leave town in August now that the
venerable Olmos Ensemble has
planted its flag on the month and
offered the cooling balm of top-notch
The troupe warily tried a single August
concert in 2013, expanded the
following August to two concerts, and
last year stretched to three. The count
was three again this August. The mini-
festival opened with a baroque
program on the 11th. The remaining
concerts, on the 18th and 25th, tilted
markedly to the 20th century, though
both closed in the classical period –
Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio for clarinet,
viola, and piano on the 18th;
Beethoven’s Trio No. 5 for violin, viola,
and cello on the 25th. All three
concerts were in the ensemble’s
regular-season venue, Laurel Heights
United Methodist Church.
The month’s emotional peak was
undoubtedly Alfred Schnittke’s
harrowing String Trio of 1985,
performed on Aug. 25. It’s a big work,
about 25 minutes, but intensely
concentrated. Its opening six-note
theme, with variants, pervades the
whole, as does the familiar, classical
G-minor tonality of the first five notes.
But the sixth is an ugly dissonance,
like a sudden stab of debilitating pain.
The whole piece pivots between tonal
harmony and its violent shredding. It’s
a disturbing, urgent journey, and it
demands exceptional musicianship –
impeccable intonation, beautiful tone,
complete unity, and, for want of a
better term, moral commitent. Those
qualities were abundantly supplied by
Olmos regular Eric Gratz (violin)
and guests Matthew Cohen (viola)
and Allan Steele (cello).
The same players closed that concert
with an elegant, polished account of
the Beethoven trio. The opening work
was Bohuslav Martinů’s oddly
instrumented Quartet (1924) for
clarinet (Ilya Shterenberg), horn (Jeff
Garza), cello (Mr. Steele), and side
drum (Joe Desotelle). It’s a delightful
piece in a quirky neoclassical style, its
first movement a cockeyed march, the
second pensive, the finale brash. Mr.
Steele’s playing was notable for the
spray of upper harmonics that gave
his tone a special presence. He gave
beautiful shape to the dark, furrowed-
brow solo that closes the middle
movement. Mr. Steele is principal
cellist with the Fort Worth
Mr. Shterenberg and Mr. Garza returned, with Texas Public Radio executive and sometime announcer Nathan Cone in tow, to perform excerpts from Charles Koechlin’s musically slight but agreeable Secrets of a Clarinet Player (1935), originally intended as a film score. Mr. Cone’s narration (sort of) explained the story line. The clarinet part represented the lovestruck protagonist, Kasper, and the horn portrayed his sidekick, Waldhorn. The spirited, confident playing served as yet another reminder of how privileged we are to have Mr. Shterenberg and Mr. Garza in our community. Both are Olmos regulars and principals with the San Antonio Symphony. Mr. Cone had another reason to attend this concert: He was one-third of a Texas Public Radio crew that broadcast all three of the concerts live on KPAC.
A welcome piece on the Aug. 18 program was Maurice Duruflé’s Prélude, Récitatif et Variations (1928) for flute (Olmos regular Mark Teplitsky), viola (Mr. Cohen), and piano (guest Zhenni Li). It was welcome in part because we rarely get to hear Duruflé’s music beyond his lovely, calming Requiem and his organ works – and also because this is a beautiful piece. Duruflé’s style is greatly indebted to Debussy and Ravel, but (to my ears) more personal, more inclined to long, deeply expressive melodic lines. The performance was stylish and engrossing. Mr. Teplitsky and Ms. Li collaborated in a poised account of Aaron Copland’s Duo (1971), a stylistic throwback to the plain-spoken diatonic harmony of his “Appalachian Spring” and other works from the 1940s.
Mr. Shterenberg joined Mr. Cohen and Ms. Li in a cogent and crisp performance of the “Kegelstatt” Trio, and the same players brought a fine Romantic sensibility and flexibility to the concert’s opener, four selections from Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces (1909). In all of his performances, Mr. Cohen’s tone was remarkable for its depth and radiance – so much so that I started to wonder if he was hiding a cello inside his viola. (Mr. Cohen and Ms. Li are co-founders and artistic directors of Philadelphia’s “Fishin’ in C” chamber music series.)
The baroque concert on the 11th brought back the excellent harpsichordist Evan Kory (he’s anchored the August baroque concert annually since 2016) and cellist Marilyn de Oliveira, who was on the San Antonio Symphony’s roster before moving to the Oregon Symphony in 2009. Their collaborators were Mr. Teplitsky and Mr. Gratz. The program was drawn from the core baroque repertoire – a flute sonata by Handel, a violin sonata by Jean-Marie Leclair, and trio sonatas for flute, violin, and continuo by Telemann and Bach. The latter’s was taken from Musical Offering and preceded by the Contrapunctus I and Contrapunctus IX for solo harpsichord from Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
Mr. Kory once again impressed with his fluidity and enterprise in continuo work and his beautiful shaping of solos. Mr. Teplitsky’s contributions were consistently elegant. Ms. de Oliveira’s craft was first-class and true to baroque style; in the Leclair sonata, her responses to Mr. Gratz’ violin in especially robust phrases seemed the soul of both baroque music and jazz.
Mr. Gratz devoted his impeccable technique to teamwork (though with his unconcealable energy intact) in the trio sonatas, but he spread his wings in the Leclair Violin Sonata in D, Op. 9, No. 3. Apparently no one told him that this music dates from 1743. Although he fully respected the technical norms of baroque performance practice, he brought to the music a contemporary, propulsive, electric sensibility that would have been perfectly at home at SXSW or the concert room at Sam’s Burger Joint. In other words, he kicked ass.