The SOLI Chamber Ensemble is clarinetist Stephanie Key, cellist David Mollenauer, violinist Ertan Torgul and pianist Carolyn True
The SOLI Chamber Ensemble is made up of clarinetist Stephanie Key, cellist David Mollenauer, violinist Ertan Torgul, and pianist Carolyn True Credit: Courtesy / SOLI Chamber Emsemble

The SOLI Chamber Ensemble on Monday will open its 25th season, titled New Horizons. Though the quartet’s lineup has been the same since its inception in 1993, its anniversary season promises innovative programming and insights into the state of contemporary chamber music.

The program for its Oct. 1-2 concerts, named Traces after a composition by Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom, will feature a majority of compositions by women: Natalie Draper, Caroline Shaw, and Jennifer Higdon.

Draper recently joined the faculty of Syracuse University; Shaw is the youngest Pulitzer Prize-winning composer; and the well-known Higdon’s work is performed widely, including by the San Antonio Symphony in its upcoming season.

That three of the five composers on the program are female was more incidental than intentional, said Ertan Torgul, the ensemble’s violinist and spokesperson. During Chamber Music America annual conferences, where composers and musicians gather to share their work and plan programming, “We meet a lot of composers who happen to be female,” Torgul said.

Their prevailing message is, “We want to be compared for our music with our male and female colleagues, not because of our gender,” Torgul explained. Thus, he has not drawn specific attention to their presence in the season’s program.

“I think that the field is so rich – there are female composers of such varying styles. So … if you’re looking for great pieces to perform, you run into a lot of women composers,” he said.

Composer Caroline Shaw is the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Credit: Courtesy / SOLI Chamber Emsemble

SOLI has actively commissioned original work throughout its 25-year history. Of nearly 70 commissioned compositions, nine have been by women. That imbalance is being corrected, Torgul said, partly because of shifting trends in the historically male-dominated world of classical music.

While other city’s orchestras lag behind with no or few female composers included in their repertoire, San Antonio appears to be leading the way with classical music programming currently featuring multiple women composers and conductors.

“Our board is 60 percent female. Fifty percent of SOLI is female. We perform female composers. We’re covering the gamut on that,” Torgul said.

Torgul is joined in SOLI by clarinetist Stephanie Key, pianist Carolyn True, and cellist David Mollenauer.

The 25th SOLI season is titled New Horizons, in part because of the ensemble’s dedication to commissioning new musical works.

“It is really an honor to be part of the inception of a piece of music,” Torgul explained. “To be able to present it for the first time, possibly the definitive performance, shaping the language of the composer, shaping what people are hearing … being part of the process of advancing the classical music of today.”

The program for An Evening With Clarice, which debuts March 31 and April 2, 2019, will presents new compositions by Clarice Assad, whom Torgul described as “legendary.”

Torgul is also excited by the evening-length musical work titled The Clearing and The Forest by composer Scott Ordway, scheduled for June 2, 2019. Another SOLI commission, the piece is not specifically Texas-themed, Torgul said, but touches on important issues gripping the state. The piece “engenders the idea of international borders and immigration, and our perceptions of those issues,” he explained.

As part of its educational mission, SOLI also innovates with two programs. The annual Contemporary Music Open Mic will take place Nov. 5 at Jazz TX at the Pearl, and musicians are invited to apply to perform on stage as soloists or ensemble members. The application, due Oct. 25, is available here.

On March 6, 2019, SOLI will hold its annual Invitational Composition Contest to spur development of new modern classical works by area university students. The program will also feature composer Ethan Wickman’s Ballads of the Borderland suite, which was first performed with the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio last March at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

Looking toward its own new horizons, Torgul said SOLI hopes to expand the competition beyond San Antonio. “The next step could be statewide, the step after that could be nationwide, then [we could] open it to the world,” he said.

SOLI would be making a profound impact, he said, by representing San Antonio and “the rich cultural heritage of this town.”

That the ensemble has lasted 25 years with its original lineup is partly from good fortune, Torgul said.

“The longevity really comes partially from luck,” he said. “It’s about four people finding each other so early on and actually clicking in such a way that we’re like a family. That doesn’t always happen in the music world.”

More details on the SOLI Chamber Ensemble’s anniversary season are available on its website, including program details, guest soloists, and ticketing information.

Senior Reporter 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...