San Antonio Chamber Music Society celebrates 80 years
Even 80 years ago, when the San Antonio Chamber Music Society (SACMS) first began presenting concerts, chamber music had long since moved from the homes of aristocratic families and into concert halls where anyone could enjoy the performances. But true to its roots, even when SACMS concerts were presented in the west wing of the Municipal Auditorium, the space was dressed with antique furniture, lamps, and rugs.
“They tried to make it look really cozy, like you were in someone’s house,” explained violist Allyson Dawkins, president of the SACMS.
The venues and spaces where you hear the music may have changed, but one thing that has remained constant since those early days of the organization is the quality of touring performers that SACMS brings to San Antonio.
“As early as 1950, you can see the Paganini String Quartet and the Hungarian Quartet, and then we have our first mention of the Juilliard Quartet in 1956,” Dawkins said as she perused the historical roster.
This year, the 80th season of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society opens Sunday with the world-class Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble, playing music by Johannes Brahms and George Enescu.
Nancy Shivers, past president of SACMS and honorary board member, said one of the things that hooked her and her husband on the organization was that commitment to high quality programming.
“We travel a lot,” she said, “and the groups that come here, we encounter in Europe, in New York City, on the West Coast, and, I might add, at a much higher ticket price than here.”
Tickets for each SACMS concert remain $25, and students, members of the military, and musicians from the San Antonio Philharmonic may all attend for free.
In recent years, SACMS expanded beyond the traditional idea of a string quartet or piano trio to explore diverse sounds in chamber music, including saxophone quartets, brass, vocals, and other groups that probably do work better in the concert hall than a living room.
This year’s season includes the Imani Winds, an ensemble of predominantly Black performers whose repertoire includes contemporary works by persons of color. On Nov. 13, they plan to appear for the SACMS for the second time.
Shivers also said she’s looking forward to a Feb. 12 concert featuring Sandbox Percussion. “I was blown away when I saw that they are coming this year,” she said. “It is definitely not your old chamber music style program!”
The young Merz Trio performs on March 12, 2023, and bookending the anniversary season on April 23 is the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which will team up with San Antonio musicians Eric Gratz (Olmos Ensemble), Emily Freudigman (Camerata San Antonio), Sarah Silver Manzke (Agarita), and David Mollenauer (SOLI) to debut a new octet for strings by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov.
“I know that our audience will be really thrilled to see their own [San Antonio] musicians playing with the St. Lawrence Quartet,” Dawkins said.
Audiences for the SACMS don’t just include those at the concert.
“Every single group that comes to San Antonio and performs on our series on a Sunday afternoon stays over on a Monday morning and presents an educational outreach event somewhere in the community,” Dawkins shared. “Of course, schools are a big priority… but we have also visited the Bexar County Jail, the juvenile detention center. … We’ve been to substance abuse centers. I feel probably most proud of our gift to our community in this way.”
Although there are many more opportunities for chamber music in South Texas than there were in 1942, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society will continue to persevere.
“We are the lucky benefactors of a lot of very generous foundations and individuals in San Antonio,” Dawkins said. “I'd like to say there is one other thing that keeps the San Antonio Chamber Music Society going, and that is the blood, sweat and tears of our volunteer board members. We are all volunteer. No one gets paid for their jobs… It takes a lot of time. And if you don't have fire in the belly for chamber music, you probably will not be giving enough to keep this organization going.”
The San Antonio Chamber Music Society opens their 80th season at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16, at Trinity Baptist Church. All other concerts during the season will be held at Temple Beth-El. A season subscription for $100 includes six tickets; one for each show, plus a bonus ticket that you can share with a friend.