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Agarita Ensemble Pianist Daniel Anastasio Dishes on Upcoming Día de los Muertos Performance 

click to enlarge NATALIA SUN
  • Natalia Sun
Fresh off its recent collaborative performance with photographer Natalia Sun, San Antonio-based chamber ensemble Agarita is at it again.

This time, the quartet has partnered with SAY Sí to perform with a selection of young spoken-word artists to close out this year's Muertitos Fest. The program will feature selections from Manuel Ponce, Maurice Ravel and more, as well as work by two contemporary composers, Molly Joyce and Jessica Meyer.

After Saturday's matinee concert, Agarita won't be back until 2020, when the ensemble will return with four spring performances featuring a bevy of local collaborators. Prior to this weekend's fall send-off, we caught up with Agarita pianist and artistic director Daniel Anastasio to get his thoughts on the Day of the Dead performance, as well as what we can anticipate for next year's busy schedule.

How did the collaboration with SAY Sí come about?

Lainey Berkus, an important promoter for the arts in town and board member at SAY Sí, had heard about Agarita and reached out to us, offering to help expand our reach. After we described our goals and mission to her, she insisted that we meet with Jon Hinojosa of SAY Sí — she knew there was a strong potential for collaboration. The meeting went well, as we realized that our goals aligned: together we are proud to support the local arts community and to expose young audiences to innovative artistic events. Our upcoming collaboration at SAY Sí's Muertitos Fest is an example of such an event.

The concert features an eclectic mix of composers, from John Williams to Alberto Ginastera. What was the inspiration behind the selection of the pieces on the program?

From the beginning, I collaborated with Amalia Ortiz, the theater arts director at SAY Sí. Amalia, Jon Hinojosa, and other members of SAY Sí shared themes of Mestizo — the convergence of cultures and indigenous roots of this region — for inspiration. Young spoken-word artists at SAY Sí explored their own roots through writing workshops, and Amalia shared these writings with me. Based on these writings, they set overarching themes of nostalgia, displacement, inner strength and celebration. I went on to select music that would both enhance these themes, and work well with interspersed spoken word. In tandem, other SAY Sí students worked with a choreographer to set expressive movement based on the spoken word. The result has been a surprisingly strong synergy between the music, the spoken word and choreographed movement.

There are two contemporary composers on the program — Molly Joyce and Jessica Meyer. What made you decide to program their work?

Agarita is open to programming music of all kinds, from all time periods. Molly Joyce and Jessica Meyer are living composers with powerful musical voices that speak to audiences in direct and accessible ways. I had become familiar with their work from my time in New York City where these composers reside, and felt their self-reflective, determined expression would work well on this program. In addition, we are always excited to program female composers, as they have been, in general, underrepresented for so many years.

What can we look forward to when Agarita returns next spring for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season's performances?

More collaborations with local artists! On February 8, we present a concert with award-winning poet Laura Van Prooyen at the Women's Club of San Antonio, on March 7, a concert and exhibition featuring sculptures of Danville Chadbourne at University of the Incarnate Word, on May 28, a musical fashion show of new designs by Nilgun Derman of Niche Clothing Company inspired by music and design throughout the ages and, finally, on June 13, a purely musical performance with members of the San Antonio Symphony at the Chapel of the Incarnate Word. All of these free, spring concerts are at 7:30 p.m. We hope you can join us!

Free, 3 p.m. Saturday, November 1, SAY Sí, 1518 S. Alamo St., (210) 212-8666,
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