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“So, what’s your day job?”

We’re used to hearing that question when asked what we do for a living. As performing artists, we’ve learned to take this in stride. After all, professional classical musicians are by definition a rarity. We both play in the San Antonio Symphony and together founded SOLI Chamber Ensemble. We also both teach private lessons at Trinity University. Which one is the “day job,” you might ask? Really, the truth is all and none.  

Our story begins with a typical boy-meets-girl scenario with a musical twist. It was the summer of 1990 and I had just joined the San Antonio Symphony as its new assistant principal cellist. As soon as the season ended in June, I headed north to Aspen, Colorado, to hang out with my colleagues at the Aspen Music Festival. My friend Mike, another cellist, mentioned a beautiful blonde who lived in his building and rode her bike in the late afternoon. We schemed to “just happen” to be sitting out in front of the building one day when Stephanie got back from a ride.

I know it sounds cliché, but it was love at first sight. I learned that not only was she from San Antonio but that her mother worked in the symphony development office. Sadly, that was the only conversation we had all summer. 

Stephanie Key has performed internationally as a clarinetist and appears on several recordings.
Stephanie Key has performed internationally as a clarinetist and appears on several recordings. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Fast forward three years, and there was Stephanie in the clarinet section of the symphony as a substitute musician during an evening rehearsal. Determined not to let the grass grow under my feet, I sprang up from my chair and asked her out for a drink after rehearsal. That was the beginning. There were reading parties (classical jam sessions), a trip to the Houston Grand Opera, countless romantic dinners, caravanning to Los Angeles for Stephanie’s graduate school, an earthquake, and a wedding. 

At one point we decided to combine our passion for playing chamber music with our advocacy for new music. This was the genesis of SOLI. Our instrumentation was modeled from the iconic Quartet for the End of Time by French composer Olivier Messiaen for piano, violin, clarinet, and cello. We ran off to the New York Public Library to see what other pieces had been written for this combination. Only 64 existed at the time. We had found our niche. 

Twenty-seven years later we are going stronger than ever. Along the way, we have had a great adventure sharing our mission with San Antonio, not only through our performances but also through educational programs. We are highly invested in education through our residency at Trinity, guest residencies at colleges here in Texas and across the country, and our SOLI Saturdays series for school children at the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio.

One of the pitfalls of sharing nearly all of our workplaces is that there is nowhere to hide. I envy couples that have disparate careers because they can unload their daily tribulations on one another with complete anonymity. Not so for us. There is no bathing in our own mythology when our partner was right there. A partner that knows all too well your rivalries, alliances, judgments, excuses, and faults.

Of course, we do have each other’s backs most of the time. It just gets a little more complex, especially when our egos are involved or we are at odds with one another. Those dynamics are multiplied when SOLI gets together. 

Key and Mollenauer rehearse a piece in the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall at Trinity University, where they are also part of the music staff.
Key and Mollenauer rehearse in the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall at Trinity University, where they teach private lessons. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Carolyn True, our pianist, is the mother hen. She is incredibly organized and has an internal metronome and a huge heart. She takes care of all our calendar planning and is the director of our education programs. Ertan Torgul, our gregarious violinist, is a great negotiator and wonderful diplomat. We’ve had to learn each other’s personalities and how we can best work together, and in the process have become a family.

Like in any family, personalities clash and conflicts arise. There have been many meltdowns, ultimatums, and tantrums over the years, but despite all of that we are closer than ever. One of the greatest privileges of being in a chamber group is sharing the intimacy of those interpersonal dynamics with your audience through music. 

That shared passion has driven SOLI to commission over 100 new works, launch international tours, collaborate creatively both locally and abroad, and garner national awards. We produce a series of concerts both at Trinity University’s Ruth Taylor Recital Hall, and less traditional spaces throughout San Antonio like Blue Star Contemporary; Gallery Nord; Jazz, TX; and most recently the San Antonio Botanical Garden. 

One performance we’ll never forget was playing at the ruined church of San Nicolò in the village of Baiardo, Italy, in the foothills of the Alps. Not only was it a gorgeous setting, but the history of the church and the tragedy that occurred there during an earthquake in 1887 made for such a powerful experience.

But what has truly had the most impact on us have been the relationships that we have made along the way. SOLI has not only been integral in our development as musicians, but in our own relationship and the connections we’ve made with our community. Our lives have been enriched as much by our interaction with our audiences perhaps as our audiences have by our performances. 

Stephanie Key

An avid performer of contemporary music, Stephanie Key is the founding and current artistic director of SOLI Chamber Ensemble. She is associate principal and Eb clarinetist with the San Antonio Symphony...

David Mollenauer

David Mollenauer is a founding member of SOLI, Assistant Principal Cello of the San Antonio Symphony, and teaches cello at Trinity University.