Arts Modern love 

SOLI Chamber Ensemble thrives on passion for one another and very contemporary music

Last May, for the first time in almost two years, core members of the SOLI Chamber Ensemble gave a stunning, intense performance at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. Specializing in music from the 20th and 21st centuries, SOLI's program included the Messiaen "Quartet for the End of Time," widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century; a rarely performed Debussy cello sonata; Penderecki's somber, stirring "Prelude for Solo Clarinet"; and the meditative, almost romantic "Air" for violin and piano by Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary composer Aaron Jay Kernis. For SOLI fans it was a long-overdue reunion, a delayed aesthetic gratification. For SOLI, it confirmed what they already knew: Something magical happens when they play together.

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If transcendence is the norm, it was a typical SOLI performance. For those experiencing SOLI for the first time, it may have seemed like an initiation. One of San Antonio's most intense chamber groups, SOLI is frequently awe-inspiring despite the casual, accessible mood they create in even the most formal setting. Blue Star is hardly the stuffy, reserved concert venue one might associate with chamber music, which is precisely why SOLI is so excited to call it home for its 2005-06 season.

There's nothing stuffy about this crew, anyway. When she's not assistant principal clarinet with the San Antonio Symphony or the Houston Ballet, Artistic Director Stephanie Key is the sexy blonde in Pseudo Buddha's wind section. All four members are attractive, intelligent, unpretentious, and inherently charming. Their exceptional musicianship and their honest, abiding passion for the music, combined with their deep friendship, has been a winning formula for more than 11 years.

SOLI's hiatus was prompted by the cancellation of the Symphony's 2003-04 season, when three of its members - clarinetist Key, violinist Ertan Torgul, and cellist David Mollenauer - were compelled to accept positions elsewhere. Pianist Carolyn True, a professor at Trinity University, was the only one left in town. With the Symphony back on track, the four were eager to resume their passion for chamber music. "This is a circle of good friends, a real core, and we miss it when we don't play together," says Key.

SOLI Chamber Ensemble: Music in the Wild

8pm Tue, Sep 27
$15; member and student discounts available

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
116 Blue Star
227-6960 or 930-3931

Other ensembles include the occasional contemporary work, but SOLI makes it their mission. Some of this season's repertoire will complement Blue Star exhibitions. The September 27 concert, Music in the Wild, features two nature-inspired works for the Nature Conservancy photo show currently on display: Toru Takemitsu's "Rain Tree Sketches" for solo piano and Joan Tower's "Wings" for solo clarinet. The program also includes Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly's "Sonata for Cello and Violin," a "death-defying" duo. Future performances include the Texas premiere of the Kernis "Trio in Red," the Loeffler trio for oboe, viola, and piano with guest artists Stephanie Shapiro and Dee Dee Fancher, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Tempest Fantasy" by Paul Moravec.

SOLI also will initiate a new Artist Series, a fifth season concert to highlight one of its core members in a more traditional recital format. Cellist Mollenauer will be featured on December 6 with a program stretching from Bach to Astor Piazzolla. "We're by no means shunning contemporary music. This format just lets us focus on one of the musicians and expand the range of repertoire, both for us and for the audience," says Key.

With their traditional home at Ruth Taylor Concert Hall under renovation, SOLI needed a new home. The acoustics at Blue Star are surprisingly good. They may not be as predictable as a concert hall, but it makes ensemble playing all the more fun. "Blue Star is amazing" says Key. "It's a creative, inspiring space. It's less formal, no stage - it's theater in the round. There's a nice interaction with the audience, and a new audience, and the artworks. Contemporary art, contemporary music. It just makes sense."

By Diana Lyn Roberts


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