Review: Festival offers a magical glimpse of old San Antonio
The Cactus Pear Music Festival put the finishing touches on its 22nd season Saturday night with its final main program offering a glimpse of what San Antonio likely was long ago — a pueblo.
Festival musicians and four folkloric dancers from Guadalupe Dance Company teamed up at Concordia Lutheran Church for the Texas premiere of “Pueblos Mágicos” by Los Angeles composer Juan Pablo Contreras.
“Pueblos Mágicos” is an impressionistic piece in three sections portraying a Mexican daybreak, a post-siesta afternoon and a nighttime fiesta. The dancers took the stage — two women and two men — pointing upward to admire imaginary fireworks as they performed.
The musicians had fireworks of their own, as when San Antonio Symphony principal clarinet Ilya Shterenberg and flutist Stephanie Jutt combined to sound like trumpets. Pianist Scott Cuellar reached inside the Steinway’s open lid to strum the strings like a guitar. Contreras, the festival’s composer in residence, suggested in remarks to the audience of about 350 people that San Antonio perhaps had been a “pueblo mágico” three centuries ago.
The concert began with a early Ludwig van Beethoven chamber work, Trio, Op. 11, “Gassenhauer,” which demonstrated Beethoven’s youthful understanding of music’s poetic power, as layers of melodies converged in the three movements. The flawless purity of Shterenberg’s clarinet led the trio. The other two players were Cuellar and cellist Beth Rapier.
Baritone Timothy Jones sang six selections from Ned Rorem’s “The Santa Fe Songs,” all based on metaphysical poetry by Witter Bynner. With ease and wit, Jones captured the contemplation, mystery and whimsy among the short songs, with a little bit of “The Twilight Zone” in one song, the one titled “He never knew.”
The concert’s second half started with a selection of four pieces from John Harbison’s “Songs America Loves to Sing.” The quartet, led by violinist and festival founder Stephanie Sant’Ambrosio, performed the humorous, abstract arrangements of widely known traditional songs, including “Amazing Grace” and a boozy version of “St. Louis Blues.”
The program ended with Antonín Dvorák’s Quartet No. 1, Op. 23. While Sant’Ambrogio, violist Carol Cook and cellist Anthony Ross performed, it was pianist Ryo Yanagitani who led the way during the quartet as the music alternated from inward-looking to exuberant. Yanagitani was the one who added the necessary weight and thunder to the finale.
The final festival event starts at 3 p.m. Sunday at Concordia Lutheran Church, a program performed by the festival’s Young Artist Program musicians. The concert is free.