SOLI Chamber Ensemble, San Antonio’s forward-thinking new music group, is returning to its small-venue roots this season with a series of intimate performances at Jazz, TX. For each of its performances, it will spend one night at the Pearl Brewery venue, and another night at its home base of Ruth Taylor Concert Hall on the Trinity University campus.
“Drinks help the music sound better,” jokes Ertan Torgul, the group’s violinist. “It's kind of a relaxed atmosphere.”
Noting club owner Brent Watkins is a friend of the group, Torgul explains, “I think he always wanted to have it be a music venue, more than just a jazz venue, and he loves SOLI. So we performed our final concert there, last season. The venue was fantastic, and turnout was great, and everybody really enjoyed the sound because it's so intimate. You're so close [to the musicians].”
SOLI opens their new season this week with a program called “On The Verge,” featuring music by Sebastian Currier, John Williams, George Tsontakis, and Robert X. Rodriguez. The program’s title comes from the piece by Currier.
“Stephanie [Key, the clarinetist for SOLI] brought this piece up many times over the past three seasons,” says Torgul. “It is sort of based on a Robert Schumann piece, and… Currier sort of uses this ‘almost too little’ or ‘almost too loud’ [aspect].” The “verge” in the music is that imaginary line between going too far in one direction—dynamically, stylistically.
“It's a very interesting thing,” Torgul continues, “because one can cross the line pretty easily. For example, [playing] almost too romantic could be schmaltz…you have to think about where those limits are and how far you want to go with what he's trying to achieve. It's a fantastic piece technically and obviously expressively.”
The program also includes jazz-inspired music by Daniel Schnyder, the “Air and Simple Gifts” that John Williams wrote for the 2009 presidential inauguration, and a short work by San Antonio native Robert X. Rodriguez that sounds positively adorable. It’s called “Lullabear.” With that title, don’t you just want to melt already? Rodriguez wrote the piece as one movement of a larger work that tells the story of a bear cub’s first year of life.
“This movement specifically depicts winter, you know, [when the baby bear is] just learning to hibernate,” Torgul says. “Basically it's like sort of this cold beautiful environment, and I mean, it is so beautiful.”
Okay, now I really have that hearts-over-eyes emoji thing going.
SOLI have been on the vanguard of new music for over two decades, and have commissioned so many new pieces, it’s to the point now where whenever they play something from the 20th Century, they might consider the music an “oldie but goodie.” Torgul laughs. I ask him what music being written today will be remembered 50, 100 years from now. Who will be the Beethovens of the future, and how does that happen?
I really think that the the sort of the natural elimination process takes place.” Referencing the proliferation of music on YouTube, Torgul continues, “And it takes place a little bit quicker these days because there's a lot more exposure for the music to be heard.”
“In Beethoven's day, [when] he wrote the Fifth Symphony and it was premiered, you didn't hear it in Amsterdam or in London the next day. You had to go to somewhere maybe months or years later when it was played again. Now, certain pieces are basically surviving and enduring, and others not as much.”
“That doesn't mean they were bad pieces by any means… but for some reason…” Torgul pauses to think. “I mean, if it wasn't for Felix Mendelssohn, we wouldn't have Bach today. But there’s that natural selection that happens, and one of the things that SOLI is so proud to be a part of is that we basically present all these pieces [to you.] We don't know what's going to survive. We present [the music] under the best light we possibly can, and have people make up their own minds.”
Learn more about SOLI's new season online at their website.