With its “biggest small town” feel that locals have recognized for years, San Antonio is a great place for fostering young talent because of its positivity, according to pianist Daniel Anastasio. He grew up here, performing with the junior Tuesday Musical Club, YOSA, the Olmos Ensemble, and other musical groups, before settling in New York for a career as a concert pianist.
“San Antonio was a very nurturing environment that wasn’t overly pushy, so it didn’t scare me away from music,” Anastasio remembers. “It was encouraging in the right ways, and inspiring.”
Musical Bridges Around the World brought four of San Antono’s “child prodigies” back home for a free concert at San Fernando Cathedral on October 1, featuring the world premiere of music by Yvonne Freckmann, and classics by Liszt, Rossini, and Paganini.
Nancy Zhou opened the program with Karol Szymanowski’s “Three Poems,” based on ancient myths. Zhou brought the beauty of a 1695 Stradivarius to the space, on loan to the young violinist from Florian Leonhard Fine Violins. Zhou also spoke to TPR about her formative years in San Antonio, where her father taught her up until she left for college, and went on to greater acclaim, performing with orchestras around the world. “The point I am at right now is all due to him.”
Mezzo-soprano Veronica Williams beautifully sang an old spiritual, “Lord, How Come Me Here,” and an aria from Rossini’s “An Italian in Algiers.” Williams says her parents fostered her early interest in music by playing recordings of Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle at home, and credits Musical Bridges founder Anya Grokhowski for the drive to perfection that was instilled later on.
“Anya is my ‘musical mother.’ I really do refer to her as that!” Williams says. “I'll never forget a moment I came to a lesson unprepared.”
Williams, who was first studying piano with Grokhovski, remembers: “She was so disappointed. She said ‘okay, we're going to do this section of this piece.’ It was Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor. ‘We're going to do this section of this piece. For the whole hour. And I'm going to go make dinner!’ And so she left, and I practiced in her home, and that like just that, alone, I was like, ‘okay, I can never ever show up unprepared again.’ It was her strictness that really modeled me into the performer I am today even though I study voice now, and not piano.”
Williams lent her talent along with Zhou and Anastasio to the final work on the program, Yvonne Freckmann’s “Bridge,” written on a commission from Musical Bridges to celebrate the organization’s 20th birthday. Freckmann’s early time in San Antonio included performance and study with Anya Grokovsky and SOLI Chamber Ensemble. She thought of the symbolism and human connectivity that the structures represent when writing her music for piano, voice and violin, and wrote the text herself.
“Bridge” can also represent the journey; of moving from one place to another. Certainly all four of these artists have grown by leaps and bounds. But bridges work in either direction, and it’s great to see them come home to share their talents with the audience that first encouraged its blossoming.
You can hear this concert in its entirety on Saturday, November 11 at 7 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM.