Camerata San Antonio
From German culture to global culture
October 18, 2010
The two halves of Camerata San
Antonio’s concert of Oct. 17 reflect two very different eras in the
history of human mobility.
Johannes Brahms, whose Clarinet Quintet in B Minor closed the concert,
was the German son of German parents; before he was born, his father’s
search or work took him from Dithmarschen to Hamburg, a distance of
about 50 miles. Apart from springtime visits to Italy, Johannes seldom
ventured far beyond the line connecting Hamburg, where he was born in
1833, and Vienna, where he died in 1897 -- a distance of less than 500
miles. The older composers who influenced him were almost exclusively
German. Apart from occasional nods to Hungary and the Gypsies, as in
one episode of the Clarinet Quintet, Brahms’s music was German. Period.
But the two composers on the concert’s first half are emblematic of the
global, synchretistic culture that seems to be the defining trait of
the 21st century. Osvaldo Golijov was born in 1960 in Argentina to
Eastern-European Jewish parents; as a young adult he moved to Israel
and then to the United States. Gabriela Lena Frank was born in 1972 in
Berkeley, Calif., to a Peruvian-Chinese mother and a Lithuanian Jewish
father. Both of these composers draw ideas from cultural systems that,
by the standards of any century prior to the 20th, are unimaginably
diverse and far-flung. Their music is -- well, it is what it is. It’s
also awfully good.
Frank is remembered locally for
the San Antonio Symphony’s 2008 performance of her Three Latin American
Dances, a work whose title obscures clearly audible influences that
also span the North Atlantic and extend to Central Europe. Camerata
offered “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout,” for string quartet. It’s a
suite of six contrasting movements, formally not far from the baroque
model. The music itself has a strongly Andean flavor. Several of the
movements emulate the sound of panpipes or duct flutes playing in
parallel fifths and fourths -- anathema in the European classical
tradition. But there’s a lot more going on than a translation of Andean
idioms to European instruments. There are many layers to this music, it
rewards careful listening, the rhythmic complexity is intriguing, and
its emotional content seems genuine.
The excellent musicians were violinists Matthew Zerweck (who impressed
with his astonishingly accurate pitch in the instrument’s highest
register in the mournful “Canto de Velorio” movement) and Sayaka Okada,
violist Emily Freudigman and cellist Kenneth Freudigman.
The same players opened with Golijov’s “Tenebrae.” The title alludes to
a work by Francois Couperin that provided some of the source material.
The music pivots between baroque and modernist idioms, with some hints
of the Hebraic. It has a generally mournful cast, but never approaches
desolation and is ultimately rather hopeful. Most remarkable is the
texture, a tapestry of trills and contrapuntal embroidery. As one
expects from Golijov, much of it is stunningly beautiful, as was the
As luck would have it,
Camerata’s performance of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B Minor
followed just one week after members of the Chamber Music Society of
Lincoln Center played the same work on the San Antonio Chamber Music
Society series. The performances were similar in merit but very
different in character, CMSLC emphasizing the autumnal side of late
Brahms, Camerata favoring the vigorous side. Ilya Shterenberg,
clarinetist for the local team, projected a more forward tone than had
David Shifrin the week before, and Shterenberg’s phrasing was livelier.
Camerata’s strings may have had a slight edge in unified ensemble and
matched timbres. But Camerata also had the advantage of the Travis Park
United Methodist Church’s focused, intimate sound, versus the more
distant and less clear acoustic of Temple Beth-El, where CMSLC played.