CASA casts a Tosca lure

Whether you’re a chamber-ensemble groupie or a rock snob, this Sunday’s concert, “Bows and Arrows,” at Trinity University, featuring performances by the Tosca String Quartet, presents a juicy meeting ground for both.

Composer S. Beth May hopes the performance of new works by members of the Composers Alliance of San Antonio will “bring a new energy.” San Antonio already enjoys concerts comprising new works, but she says “Bows and Arrows” won’t sound like what you typically hear in a recital hall. “Those performances are very subdued, and there is a buzz surrounding Tosca,” explains May.

The four string players have toured internationally with
David Byrne, recorded with such bands as Spoon and Arcade Fire, and play Bonnie Raitt as skillfully as Béla Bartók. Slated to perform new works by May, Dimitar Ninov, and Jack Stamps, the quartet has a history of drawing crowds to contemporary classical music.

“They have a mass appeal and they’re willing to play music that’s adventurous, but that’s good,” says May. Not only are the quartet classically trained, their star power lures listeners who would otherwise shy away from chamber ensembles. “Music that seems unappealing to a mass audience actually isn’t — people just aren’t presented the music in an accessible way,” she says.

Tosca knows where audiences go and they bring to “Bows and Arrows” 11 years of experience entertaining people from all backgrounds. “People are creatures of habit in terms of what they do in their spare time. If people are going to South by Southwest, that’s a great place to reach new audiences, because they go to SXSW anyway,” says May. The string players appeared at the music festival in 2007, proving that crowds welcome them as strongly in UT’s Bass Concert Hall (their alma mater) as they do at Emo’s.

CASA members Stamps and May are striving to cultivate a younger, more contemporary classical-music audience, and hipster icon Tosca may be the missing link. (Their bona-fide cool résumé includes a role in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and a collaboration with Austin band Voxtrot.)

But this doesn’t mean CASA composers believe young audiences will be banging down doors for chamber music. Stamps says, “simply put, academia has pretty high walls and tends to serve only those within the walls. I see what I do as a Trojan horse, armed with past pop experiences that blur those walls.”

Stamps’s world-premier of “String Quartet No. 2 (Sketches from a Fakebook Landfill)” draws on jazz idioms and traditional string norms: “The score simulates jazz improvisation through enhanced graphics and structures. Copies of the score will float around before and during the performance — something you rarely see in a chamber-music concert,” says Stamps.

If you appreciate “classical” music but are happy with your iPod playlist, Stamps understands. He struggles with the same allegiances you do, at once publishing electronic music on his MySpace page and teaching courses at Trinity. “I recently found out that one of the guys from Mouse on Mars now teaches music at the Royal Academy in Amsterdam,” he says. So he’s not the only one. Teaming up with Tosca could prove to be a formidable alliance against cynics who declaim San Antonio’s creative scene is drying up.

On May 4, CASA members will show you that new music is on the rise. Stamps is hopeful, but realistic: “I’ll be sitting in the audience during ‘Bows and Arrows,’ and I’ll judge if I was successful by the reactions I get. Like being in a band, after finishing a new tune and gazing over the faces looking back at me — that’s where the answer needs to remain.”



Bows and Arrows
7:30pm Sun, May 4
Trinity University, Ruth Taylor Hall
One Trinity Place
(210) 999-7011


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