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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Olmos Ensemble Keeps The Live Music Flowing

Olmos Ensemble, performing live at Laurel Heights UMC.
Nathan Cone
Olmos Ensemble, performing live at Laurel Heights UMC.

This month, Olmos Ensemble hosts a three-week series of concerts at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church that will also be broadcast on KPAC 88.3 FM. Beginning August 8, the group will bring talented performers from out of town to join the core group. Each performance begins at 3:00 p.m.

TPR’s Nathan Cone recently sat down with Mark Teplitsky, flutist and artistic director of the ensemble. Below is an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation.

Nathan Cone: Mark, there has been a return to a concert going over the past year, since January… in fact, February, when the San Antonio Symphony came back into the Tobin Center. Olmos Ensemble has been performing live the entire pandemic in a distanced form. What are these concerts going to be like for the audience here at Laurel Heights this coming month? Some folks may have concerns, of course, with the COVID variants that are going on out there.

Mark Teplitsky: Well, we're excited that we can even be here performing this coming month of August and do all three concerts… and to have an audience that we know, supports [us] and wants to see us on stage. We, of course, stay up to date on everything that is happening. We will always encourage distance seating, and we trust our audience, which consists of people who are very considerate of the circumstances happening right now.

[NOTE: As of this writing, Olmos Ensemble is requiring unvaccinated audience members to wear a mask. For fully vaccinated individuals, masks are optional.]

As performers, though, how has it been during this pandemic to navigate the times we're in?

I think the musicians of Olmos Ensemble had kind of a double-edged sword when it came to this, because not only were jobs and careers affected… when the work stoppage happened across the country, but even now, because we're also woodwind players here at the Olmos Ensemble.... we had to take special precautions considering how we'll face each other on stage. Now that things are much safer and people have taken care of themselves, and we've played quite a few concerts together, I think there is no more discomfort left at all between us.

Well, the first concert that's coming up features you! Playing some beautiful music by Debussy and Francois Devienne, and Gershwin. Is this Gershwin [you’re going to play] an arrangement of the W.C. Handy “St. Louis Blues?”

That's exactly right. That's one of Matt Cohen's finds. It's another wonderful thing about being able to work with people outside the ensemble as they help in picking some of the repertoire or make suggestions and often something that I would not know would be brought to my attention like this Gershwin, which we're excited to play.

So tell me a little bit about how you put together this program, the classical hodgepodge program.

So the first program is going to have myself playing the flute, a good friend of mine, Matt Cohen, a violist who often plays with the New York Philharmonic on Viola and then Rachel Ferris from the San Antonio Symphony itself playing on harp. The instrumentation was chosen because it's an ensemble that is very popular. Composers through the centuries have actually written for this trio of instruments, and yet it is different from the Olmos sextet of musicians. And so we wanted to use this opportunity to feature another chamber ensemble using German, French, English and even American works.

What are you looking forward to most sharing with the folks on this program? Which piece?

On this program I'm looking forward to sharing the Ravel. The last piece on the program, it's the piano “Sonatine,” written for flute, harp and viola.

The second concert is “Castles and Taverns,” and I guess we're talking about baroque music that was played in those places while people are doing other things, sometimes. Right.?

That's just part of it. So the guest artist for a baroque program is Jeannette Sorell, who leads as conductor and harpsichordist Apollo's Fire, a group in Cleveland that she founded, a baroque ensemble. And we were thrilled to actually have Jeannette put this program together for us and title it “Castles and Taverns.” I spoke with her about it, asking the same thing. Is it just two locations where the music was played? And she said, no, I need to look beyond this. It's in everything baroque--architecture, art. And so I did a little further research and saw that she was quite right. You look at a lot of baroque paintings and if it's not, you know, a devil's head cut off, it's people getting drunk in a tavern with a slew of musicians there. And so the program alternates music that would have been written for the court or for the peasant men, so to say. And I think it's a really wonderful mix.

Now the third concert on here is the one with the title that might scare people. “20th Century Avant Gardes.”

Well, I think everybody has to give contemporary music a chance. Contemporary music gets a very bad reputation because of a very short period of time that people associate all contemporary music with. Everybody always thinks of the Second Viennese School only, you know, your twelve-tone row... which some people happen to like! But nevertheless, everybody thinks of that as contemporary music. And so while we may throw in a surprise, it won't be too long. And the program introduces an audience to actually the huge variety of music written in the last century, some of it sounding fairly romantic.

I think that one of the great things about concerts of 20th century music is [a concert] is the best way to introduce yourself to it, because when you're in a performance setting, you know, you're really not only rooting for the players, but you feel open yourself to listening to the music.

I think that's a very valid point. Um, I would just add on that Mozart's contemporaries included many composers of whom we don't know, some which were probably quite fine and others not so much. And so I think it's our responsibility, if you want to see this art form continue, to weed out what is good and what is not from the last century of music. And there will be quite a bit more of it because it's so close to our own time.

As the artistic director, how much input do you have? Is it like, “OK, this is what I think,” and then you still get input from the performers in the group? How does the dynamic work?

I like to keep a revolving door where the ideas can always come in. We have group emails and individual emails, emails about every single concert and the guests we want to invite. Occasionally you have pieces that don't go well together that any given individual might want to play. And then I have to make a decision on what goes. But usually we don't come across this. We find a theme for a concert. And within that theme there's a work that somebody really wants to play. And then we program the rest of the concert around that work or the guest that that work might choose.

Mark, is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you want to get in here?

We're just so thankful to the San Antonio community that helped us continue having our seasons through the pandemic. And the past year and a half, we're excited to continue being part of the community. And please come please stay afterwards. Please talk to us. We love seeing you.

Olmos Ensemble performs at 3 p.m. on August 8, 15, and 22 at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church. Admission is by suggested donation. You can learn more about the group’s current season online at this link: https://www.olmosensemble.com/21-22-season