The Classical Music Institute concerts begin April 3 at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and end June 26 with the chamber ensemble’s first performance in the Tobin’s H-E-B Performance Hall. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Music fans familiar with 20th-century classical composers will recognize the names of Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Elliott Carter, Virgil Thomson, Daniel Barenboim, Astor Piazzolla, and even star pop producer Quincy Jones. But some might not recognize the name of the woman who taught them all: Nadia Boulanger.

Boulanger was a composer as well as a renowned teacher, and her 1914 composition Three Pieces for Cello and Piano will be featured in the Classical Music Institutes’s “Melodious Mediterranean” concert program scheduled for June 17, along with pieces by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, Spanish composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, and Italian composer Antonio Bazzini.

This recognition, between known and unknown composers, animates the programming choices of Paul Montalvo, CMI artistic director.

Last week, CMI announced its 2021 season of six ticketed concerts along with one free concert and the continuation of its robust education program. The concerts begin April 3 at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and end June 26 with the chamber ensemble’s first performance in the Tobin’s H-E-B Performance Hall.

The title of the June 16 concert, “Sung and Unsung,” encompasses Montalvo’s approach. The program will feature composers of color that deserve more recognition, he said, including Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga, American composers William Grant Still, Shawn Okpebholo, Jessie Montgomery, along with the much-acclaimed Samuel Barber.

While Barber remains well-known, Still will be new to many classical music fans. He was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera, and he produced nearly 200 orchestral works during his lifetime (1895-1978) but was denied the opportunities he deserved, Montalvo said.

Barber’s Adagio for Strings, famous in part for its emotive appearances in such movies as Platoon and The Elephant Man, might sound different in context with unfamiliar music, Montalvo suggested. “Maybe it shows it in a different light, and it sounds – from my years anyway – it sounds even fresher,” he said.

Hearing the piece with Okpebholo’s songs, derived from spirituals, will be “intellectually and musically … very satisfying,” Montalvo said.

The “Melodious Mediterranean” and “Sung and Unsung” concerts will be part of the June 14-25 Ascend summer education program, a yearly event that allows students to learn directly from seasoned professionals. The culminating event of both the summer program and the CMI season will be “Infinite Roots,” scheduled for June 26 and featuring the conducting debut of Leonardo Pineda, assistant conductor.

During the program, San Antonio composer Edna Longoria will enjoy the world premiere of her homage to Beethoven’s dances, Partita Latina.

The first two concerts of the season are stand-alone performances, with the “To Music!” program on April 3 and “Symmetry of Time” on June 12.

Two familiar names in classical music – Schubert and Beethoven – will begin the season with French composer Louise Farrenc rounding out the program of vocal music. Among Schubert’s lieder (songs), An die Musik will be ideal to begin the evening and the season, Montalvo said.

“There’s a specific reason I picked that,” he said. “Arts are not the savior of mankind and what we’re going through right now, but they sure do help,” he said of pandemic isolation and political tumult. But he hopes audiences will find inspiration and hope in the lyrics for the piece, written by Franz von Schober:

Beloved art, in how many a bleak hour,
when I am enmeshed in life’s tumultuous round,
have you kindled my heart to the warmth of love,
and borne me away to a better world!

Season subscriptions and single-event tickets are available on the CMI website, with discounts for seniors, military, and students.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...