Sunday is the busiest day of the week of San Fernando Cathedral where morning Mass is offered in English and Spanish and is broadcast throughout the Americas, but the wooden pews were filled to capacity again Sunday evening, this time for the San Antonio Symphony.
The second concert in the Baroque Series, “Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico,” was performed by a strings and woodwinds ensemble led by Concertmaster Eric Gratz who also performed as soloist. Gratz is only 25 and in his comments before the Vivaldi performance he recalled the test in childhood of first playing Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 6 in A minor.
It’s that sort of intimacy and informality with the audience that makes the San Fernando Cathedral setting such a welcoming venue, even if the wooden pews fail to compete with the more plush and comfortable seats at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
There were less than 20 members of the orchestra performing Sunday night, a reminder that extraordinary music can be made with less than a full stage of musicians.
Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto welcomed the audience for the evening performance and began the program with an introduction to a lesser Italian violin virtuoso and composer named Francisco Marie Veracini, whose mischievous, sometime uncivil behavior on one occasion led to a court brawl with other musicians. He escaped that melee only by jumping out of a third floor palace, breaking a hip and leaving him with a lifelong limp.
Hmm, perhaps classical music musicians are just like the rest of us and not necessarily dedicated to lives of perfection, I thought. Members of the San Antonio Symphony orchestra, Fujimoto assured the audience, never engage in such in-fighting or other bad behavior, an assurance that drew laughs from the audience and knowing smiles from the musicians.
Fujimoto regularly delivers informed and entertaining seminars on composers, their music and their times prior to performances led by Conductor and Musical Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who could be seen Sunday evening at the back of the Cathedral, standing throughout the program, Fujimoto’s knowledge, appreciation of history and society in its time, always make for interesting and often humorous learning experiences.
She described the work of Veracini and other Baroque composers as “mini-symphonies” that predated the work of the great symphony composers. That makes for shorter movements, and for the audience, a shorter program, which my family agreed was perfect for a Sunday evening at San Fernando.
Veracini Ouverture No. 1 in B-flat major
Veracini Ouverture No. 6 in G minor
Vivaldi From L’estro armonico, Concerto No. 6, RV 356 in A minor
Vivaldi From L’estro armonico, Concerto No. 9, RV 230 in D major