PAST, the opening of SOLI Chamber Ensemble‘s 20th anniversary season, was our first adventure with the group – and definitely not the last. The event was hosted by Carina and Hans Gors at their beautiful contemporary art space, Gallery Nord, and it was an evening to remember. An intimate group of about 50 enjoyed a presentation of world-class proportions in a warm and friendly atmosphere. The night began with a casual discussion of the music to be presented by the quartet. No quotes here, but let us just say that we have rarely encountered such a verbose group of artists. And this was a refreshing treat. It allowed us an eloquent glimpse of personality and passion prior to the performance.
They opened with a short piece, SOLI Collage (2013), written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Paul Moravec, in honor of SOLI Ensemble’s 20th season. A beautiful introduction to our musicians, it was playful and bright, giving sway to each player – demonstrating that there was no one star, but a constellation to behold.
This piece was followed by Música, por un Tiempo (2008) by Robert Xavier Rodríguez. A native son of San Antonio, Rodríguez first gained international recognition when awarded the Prix de Composition Musicale Prince Pierre de Monaco by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace in 1971. SOLI commissioned this work, which first premiered in 2009. It is a mashup of Rhumba Cubano meets the BBC — don’t be offended, just get it. When you hear it for the first time, you will understand — it makes you want to dance! Simply brilliant, in the truest sense of the word. The “time” was included as an homage to Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time — the final piece in the evening’s program. As the composer puts it, “While Messiaen’s quartet evokes a transcendent, eternal state, when ‘…there shall be time no longer’ — Revelation 10:6 — my work… instead celebrates individual moments of our fleeting Earthly time, as those moments are intensified through music.” Much like life, this piece was a whirlwind. If you are present and engaged, there is nothing quite as exhilarating.
Following the intermission, our magicians launched into Messiaens’ Quartet for the End of Time (1941). This piece was originally written and performed in a Nazi POW camp during WWII. Messiaen was taken prisoner when the Germans occupied France in the spring of 1940. Among his fellow prisoners, he discovered a violinist, clarinetist, and cellist. Supplied with a beater of an old upright piano by the camp Commandant, he set about composing this work. It was performed at prison camp Stalag VIII-A on January 15, 1941, for a large assembly of fellow POWs. In the subfreezing conditions of the concert, Messiaen said, “Never have I been listened to with such attention and understanding.” He was just 32 years old…
No doubt. It is difficult to imagine creating and performing this musical revelation in 8 movements under such daunting – and most would deem hopeless – circumstances. However, this is not an ode to misery. Quite the opposite. Messiaen was a very devout Catholic and the Quartet “is an expression of faith in the resurrection from temporal existence, a faith expressed in many ways.” Program notes describing the movements by Messiaen himself are invaluable in that they make it a “present” experience for the listener. It made a difference for us to know where the visions lay. The presence of birdsong throughout the movements was particularly poignant, that representation of an aching for freedom. Whether the bombastic power press of the fortissimo hammering and strumming, or delicate tip-toeing mist of strings and breath — honestly a beautiful cacophony of Dream-state vs. THIS is my Reality.
Go. Go. Go. You may be able to catch the October 15th performance, 7:30 at the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall, Trinity University. If not, the season continues into 2014 with performances coming up in January and again in May — check the website. If we were in New York or Chicago, these guys would be playing in a completely sold-out concert hall. Here, in San Antonio, it’s up close and personal. What a delight. Not familiar with chamber music, you say? Well, c’mon in, the water’s just fine. Definitely worth a listen. SOLI will elevate your spirit!
Cast of Characters: