SAN ANTONIO — For four seasons and counting, it's been the mission of San Antonio-based chamber ensemble Agarita to bolster appreciation of the live-music experience by harmonizing accessibility with reinvention.
There's been many an opportunity for the group to reinvent itself in the process. When the pandemic halted close-quarters gatherings, Agarita went mobile with Humble Hall, an outdoor-show initiative. A short while later, they ramped up their collaborations with other artists, partnering with local glass-blowers, photographers, poets and sound designers for cross-media concerts that put a new spin on familiar genres.
Music fans across the Alamo City can expect more of both in Agarita's fifth season, kicking off Sept. 3 with a show at the Carver Community Cultural Center that will see them playing alongside members of the Harlem Quartet.
At the same time, the group is preparing to launch a new program focused on fostering musical creativity in some of the metro's youngest residents.
"The inclusion of basic classical music appreciation and education for children has waned across our nation over the past century," said Marisa Bushman, a violist and one of Agarita's four founding members. "Through this initiative we aim to demonstrate strongly why that should change course."
Agarita Inspires! is the name of that initiative, and it will see the group going straight to local schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas of town, with a goal of playing for thousands of Bexar County kids. Off the proverbial stage, Agarita has also assembled a team experienced in education and community engagement to further empower teachers at those schools to teach the importance of classical music.
The new program, through which Agarita hopes to connect with 36,000 students by 2024, would go a long way towards filling a vacuum of artistic exposure left behind in the wake of the San Antonio Symphony's dissolving this summer.
"We're concerned with the longer-term impact of educating the younger public about this music, so that a future generation might appreciate all of the richness that art can offer in life," Bushman said.
They're putting words into action when it comes to "longer-term"; Bushman says the plan is to track the progress of students they play for in the coming months, and adjust their approach of enriching teachers' lesson plans as needed. The key metrics that will determine the success of Agarita Inspires!: social wellbeing, retention, level of interest in arts and sciences, and whether students later embark on a career in the arts.
Those school concerts will be free, as are all of Agarita's shows, which tend to run the gamut of genres and musical epochs; the group has previously dabbled in the iconic scores of John Williams and Beethoven, as well as the influence of American folk and contemporary jazz.
"Our mission remains the same: free, collaborative concerts for all of San Antonio in order to inspire, educate and engage our public," Bushman said.
She added that the ensemble – rounded out by violinist Sarah Silver Manzke, cellist Ignacio Gallego and pianist Daniel Anastasio – expects bigger in-person crowds this season as COVID-19 vaccines are more widely available. And Humble Hall will once again visit all 10 of the city's districts.
They'll also continue to team up with other artists, including a first-time collaboration with Ballet San Antonio on Jan. 28. Other upcoming concerts will see Agarita performing at the Botanical Gardens (Feb. 25), San Antonio Museum of Art (April 18) and, to finish out the season, the Chapel of the Incarnate Word (June 17).
Continuing to organize shows that go beyond live music and experiences that ignite more senses than just hearing remains a priority for Agarita, not just as a way of invigorating their own rhythms but to help showcase other creatives in south Texas.
"For us," Bushman said, "collaboration means working with other artists to achieve an event that isn't just our own vision, isn't just their vision, but is some third thing greater than the sum."
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