On Sunday, San Antonio Symphony concertmaster Eric Gratz will take the stage at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts for the first time in two years.
Gratz will appear as a member of the Olmos Ensemble, a group of first-chair symphony musicians performing as guest soloists with the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) for the group’s annual Winter Showcase concert.
“I’m excited to just walk in there and go make music with people that are also excited to be there,” Gratz said of his colleagues and the group of students that will share the stage.
For Gratz, the Symphony musicians’ ongoing strike will be left in the background during the YOSA showcase, he said. The featured Symphony musicians will instead spend their precious moments back on the Tobin stage trying to be “very much in the moment, and just [trying] to do what’s in front of us.”
But he added that he believes the symphony strike, which has so far consumed most of the 2021-2022 season for San Antonio’s top-tier musicians, will have ramifications for these student musicians in the years to come.
“The issues that the symphony have been having are going to have an extremely negative impact long-term on the on the young population,” Gratz said, “because of the lack of exposure to high level live performances, but also the inevitable departure of people.
“If things don’t get resolved, there will be a void of educators,” Gratz said.
For one afternoon, at least, five of the symphony’s musicians will be onstage at the Tobin Center with a group of students eager to learn.
At the Feb. 13 concert, oboist Paul Lueders will join Gratz for Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin, to be performed with the 55-member YOSA Symphony led by conductor Kenneth Freudigman, also with the San Antonio Symphony as principal cellist. Clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg and bassoonist Sharon Kuster will perform Mendelssohn’s Concert Piece No. 2 in D minor with the YOSA Symphonic Winds group of 50 student musicians.
After rehearsing with the students, Gratz praised their professionalism and openness.
“I love playing with student orchestras because they’re so eager to learn and they’re so eager to try things,” he said. “This is all so new to them. It’s a very high-energy environment, and they have been super receptive in rehearsal to any ideas that that we’ve proposed musically.”
Andy Post will be conducting Shterenberg and Kuster with the YOSA Symphonic Winds. While the end product will be “fantastic and exciting,” Post said the main benefit YOSA students will take from the experience is working with professional symphonic musicians.
“It’s the rehearsal time that they’ve spent with these musicians,” Post added. “For the students to get a chance to not only see how a rehearsal works with professionals, but also to have conversations with them before rehearsal and after rehearsal; just seeing that these musicians are people and that they’re approachable and you can talk with them.”
The students will learn to accompany soloists and experience firsthand the level of talent and commitment it takes to pursue a career in music. The key is “realizing that these professional musicians were also beginners at one time, a long time ago,” he said.
A concert the magnitude of the Winter Showcase, with its three ensembles and a dozen pieces to be performed, requires a collaborative effort, Post said. The public school students, private school students and homeschooled students of the three YOSA ensembles, ranging in age from 12 to 20, will be joined by members of the advanced YOSA Philharmonic orchestra and students of the University of Texas at San Antonio percussion studio for Hill Country Flourishes by composer Steven Barton.
The piece requires a full percussion ensemble including timpani, bass drum, bells, chimes, claves, crash cymbals, gong, marimba, ratchet, sleigh bells, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, temple blocks, timbales, triangle, vibra-slap and xylophone to achieve the “sparkling” and challenging qualities sought by Cheryl Floyd, music director of the Hill Country Middle School Band of Austin, who originally commissioned the work in 2001.
Other works in the program include Mai Nozipo by Zimbabwean composer Dumisani Maraire, made popular by the Kronos Quartet on their 1992 album Pieces of Africa, performed by the eight-member YOSA Percussion Ensemble conducted by Riely Francis, the San Antonio Symphony’s principal percussion and assistant principal timpani.
Tickets and more information on the YOSA Winter Showcase and other upcoming YOSA events are available here.
This article has been updated to include Kenneth Freudigman.