Urtan Torgul
Chamber music still thrives in San Antonio

"Chamber Music with a Texas Kick" is how the Cactus Pear Music Festival advertises its seventh summer. What a "Texas kick" means to Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Ibert is unclear, except for a kick in the teeth. "The whole year has been a bit surreal for me," says violinist Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, concertmaster for the San Antonio Symphony, which, after canceling the final month of its season, is now officially bankrupt. If the Symphony has for the moment stopped kicking, the Cactus Pear Music Festival, which Sant'Ambrogio founded in 1996, still has legs. From July 9-20, it offers three programs of chamber music in San Antonio, as well as single concerts in Georgetown, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Boerne.

Rachel Ferris
Cactus pears survive desert habitats because the prickly, rugged skin protects the soft, sweet fruit inside. Sant'Ambrogio named her festival because she happened to be sipping a cactus pear margarita at the Zuni Grill at the moment she conceived a summer music series for San Antonio. But cactus pear is also a perfect metaphor for precious musical fruit that thrives during torrid July in South Texas. This summer, the festival's name takes on added significance; funding for Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms has shriveled, except at the Cactus Pear Music Festival.

Joe Johnson
"Chamber music is really exciting for the audience and the performers," says Sant' Ambrogio. "It is the purest form of music-making." It might now be the only form of music-making for a violinist in San Antonio. Sant'Ambrogio insists that if having a family had not limited her travel, she would have become a full-time chamber musician, like her sister, Sara, cellist with the renowned Eroica Trio. For other cities, festivals such as Tanglewood, Ravinia, and Wolf Trap offer employment and inspiration during idle summer months. In San Antonio, Cactus Pear might be the only gig a few Symphony musicians will find for the rest of the year.

Laurel Heights United Methodist church  
227 W. Woodlawn, 733-7156

Souvenirs & Serenades. Featuring Wolf's Italian Serenade in G Major, Beethoven's Serenade in D Major, and Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. 7:30pm July 12. $20 adult, $8 student.

For complete information on the festival, including concerts in Boerne, Fredericksburg, Georgetown, and Kerrville, call 824-5377 or visit www.cpmf.us/ index.html.

Sant'Ambrogio has invited some members of the San Antonio Symphony, including principal clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg, principal harpist Rachel Ferris, and violinist and associate concertmaster Ertan Torgul, to perform in her concerts. She is also bringing former principal cellist Fred Edelen, now with Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, as well as three cellists - Joseph Johnson, Beth Rapier, and Anthony Ross - from Minnesota, violinist Alison Harney from St. Louis, and violists David Harding and Daniel Panner, from British Columbia and New York, respectively. Cactus Pear musicians work closely with one another and their audiences, who are encouraged to offer feedback and are eligible for door prizes. The festival extends its public outreach through master classes and additional, free performances for youth groups and seniors.

Sant'Ambrogio and pianist Jeffrey Sykes have just produced a CD of works by Mexican and American composers that can be ordered through the festival's Web site: www.cpmf.us. The CD's title, Souvenirs de San Antonio, might suggest a photo of the Alamo or a Spurs T-shirt. It also suggests nostalgia for an ungrateful city that gives classical musicians little nourishment but cactus pears. •

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