Amid the burgeoning flora of spring, the SOLI Chamber Ensemble will consider the opposite end of life’s spectrum.

The subject of death was already on the program for its April 11 Prisms concert at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, the final performance of the group’s 28th season, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine inspired a change.

The concert will now open with a piece by Ukrainian composer Bohdana Frolyak, currently a refugee in Paris after leaving her home in Lviv to escape the war.

Luckily, said SOLI Artistic Director Stephanie Key, Frolyak brought her laptop with her, which held her musical compositions, and she was able to send the 2009 piece Three Miniatures in C for the concert.

When the 2021-2022 season was being planned early in 2021, SOLI commissioned Puerto Rican composer Armando Bayolo to write a piece for the ensemble, which is known for commissioning new works by living composers.

In the interim, Bayolo’s friend and mentor Louis Andriessen, a Dutch composer and well-regarded music teacher, died in July. Bayolo wrote the four-part piece Holbein Dances in his honor.

Called “a meditation on the fragility of life” in the ensemble’s press release announcing the concert, Holbein Dances is based on a series of woodcuts by 16th century German Renaissance artist Hans Holbein. In the series of 48 images, skeletons remind people from all walks of life that they, too, will die, despite whatever wealth, prestige, honor or infamy they have gained during their lifetimes. In several prints, the skeletons play musical instruments, including a violin, drum and glockenspiel.

The composition will receive its world premiere at the Monday concert, with Bayolo present for the performance.

Andriessen will also be honored directly, with selections from his 20-song composition The Memory of Roses, written over four decades. Each piece is dedicated to a personal friend of the composer. Mezzo-soprano Jacquelyn Matava will join SOLI pianist Carolyn True for the voice and piano duet.

In keeping with the memorial theme, SOLI will also perform a work by American composer George Crumb, who died in February at age 92. Written in 1979, the music of Apparition is set to elegiac verse by 19th century American poet Walt Whitman, from a 20-stanza poem titled When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d.

In the poem, Whitman marvels at the song of a hermit thrush, singing in the dusk what sounds like a traditional death carol near a funeral procession. The nine-part Crumb composition begins and ends with sections titled “The Night in Silence Under Many a Star,” described by SOLI as “a larger vision of death not as an end in and of itself, but as a circular return to a new beginning.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the possibility of death closer to everyone, Key suggested, leaving “little vacuums where people were.”

The Prisms program will address the experience of the pandemic with two pieces written amid the “sadness and darkness” of 2020, she said: Caos y resistencia for solo piano by McAllen composer and University of Texas at San Antonio graduate Edna Alejandra Longoria, and Peace by New York violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery.

Sahlee, Stephanie Key and David Mollenauer’s Entlebucher Sennenhund. Credit: Courtesy / Stephanie Key

The mournful music of Prisms has now taken on personal meaning for Key and her spouse David Mollenauer, who plays cello with SOLI. Their beloved Swiss mountain dog Sahlee died Tuesday from a brain tumor, Key said.

Mollenauer had just brought the family dogs to Dallas to visit while Key performs with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra — both musicians are currently on strike with the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony — and Sahlee’s death was completely unexpected.

“One thing throughout time we can never grapple with is … we die. We’re gone,” Key said. “And some people choose to obsess and to fear it, and some choose to make fun and laugh in the face of it.”

In an evening of chamber music in the outdoor venue of the botanical garden, SOLI will express the grief and awareness of mortality through music — but Key insisted hope is also on the program. Despite war, the symphony strike and personal loss, she said, “The arts will survive.”

Key said SOLI Managing Director Anne Schelleng has researched aid organizations and will have information available for any concertgoers seeking to donate to the Ukrainian cause.

Patio seating at the Kelso Center in the botanical garden is sold out for the Prisms concert, but lawn seating is available at $15 per ticket. Seating is limited, and advance purchase is recommended. Attendees are invited to bring a blanket or low chair to sit on the lawn.

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...