In the midst of the budding flora of spring, the SOLI bedroom set will examine the opposite end of the spectrum of life.
The subject of death was already on the program for his April 11 Prisms concert at San Antonio Botanical Gardenthe last performance of the band’s 28th season, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine inspired a change.
The concert will now open with a piece by Ukrainian composer Bohdana Frolyak, currently a refugee in Paris after leaving her home in Lviv to escape the war.
Luckily, SOLI artistic director Stephanie Key said, Frolyak brought her laptop with her, which contained her musical compositions, and she was able to send in the 2009 piece. Three Miniatures in C for the gig.
While the 2021-2022 season was planned for the start of 2021, SOLI commissioned the Puerto Rican composer Armando Bayolo to write a piece for the ensemble, which is known to commission new works from living composers.
In the meantime, Bayolo’s friend and mentor Louis Andriessen, Dutch composer and renowned music teacher, died in July. Bayolo wrote the play in four parts Holbein Dances in his honour.
Titled “a meditation on the fragility of life” in the ensemble’s press release announcing the concert, Holbein Dances is based on a series of woodcuts by the 16th century German Renaissance artist Hans Holbein. In the series of 48 images, skeletons remind people from all walks of life that they too will die, despite the wealth, prestige, honor or infamy they have acquired during their lifetime. In several engravings, the skeletons play musical instruments, including a violin, a drum and a glockenspiel.
The composition will receive its world premiere at Monday’s concert, with Bayolo present for the performance.
Andriessen will also be honored directly, with selections from his 20-song lineup The memory of roses, written over four decades. Each piece is dedicated to a personal friend of the composer. Mezzo-soprano Jacquelyn Matava will join SOLI pianist Carolyn True for the voice and piano duet.
In keeping with the commemorative theme, SOLI will also perform a work by American composer George Crumb, who died in February at the age of 92. Written in 1979, the music of Appearance is set in elegiac verse by the 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman, from a 20-stanza poem entitled When the lilacs last in the Bloom’d door-yard.
In the poem, Whitman marvels at the song of a hermit thrush, singing in the twilight what sounds like a traditional death song near a funeral procession. Crumb’s nine-part composition begins and ends with sections entitled “The Night in Silence Under Many a Star”, described by SOLI as “a larger view of death not as an end in itself, but as a return circular to a new beginning.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought everyone closer to the possibility of dying, Key suggested, leaving “little voids where people used to be.”
the Prisms The program will address the experience of the pandemic with two plays written amid the “sadness and darkness” of 2020, she said: chaos and resistance for solo piano by composer McAllen and a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio Edna Alejandra Longoriaand Peace by the New York violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery.
The mournful music of Prisms has now taken on personal meaning for Key and her husband David Mollenauer, who plays cello with SOLI. Their beloved Swiss Mountain dog Sahlee died of a brain tumor on Tuesday, Key said.
Mollenauer had just brought the family dogs to Dallas to visit while Key was performing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra – both musicians are currently on strike with the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra – and the Sahlee’s death was completely unexpected.
“One thing through time that we can never grapple with is… we die. We left,” Key said. “And some people choose to obsess and be afraid of it, and some people choose to mock and laugh at it.”
During an evening of chamber music in the Botanical Garden’s Outdoor Room, SOLI will express grief and awareness of mortality through music – but Key insisted hope was also on the agenda. Despite the war, the symphony strike and personal loss, she said, “The arts will survive.
Key said SOLI chief executive Anne Schelleng has researched aid organizations and will make information available to any viewers wishing to donate to the Ukrainian cause.
Seating on the terrace of the Kelso Center in the Botanical Garden is sold out for the Prisms concert, but seats on the lawn are available at $15 per ticket. Places are limited and advance purchase is recommended. Participants are encouraged to bring a blanket or low chair to sit on the lawn.