From today's Santa Barbara News Press ...
New season, new sounds : Stalwart chamber music group Camerata Pacifica kicked off its 20th anniversary season with an impressive, contemporary salvo
By Josef Woodard SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
September 14, 2009 10:56 AM
It was 20 years ago today, give or take, that the first inspired rumblings of Camerata Pacifica began to make its joyful chamber music noise in Santa Barbara. Back then, founder-flutist Adrian Spence called the operation the Bach Camerata, and opened season with Bach's Brandenburg Concerti. After adapting the new, more widely embracing name, Mr. Spence's adventure grew onward and upward through the years.
Today, the group is one of the stronger- and steadier-pulsed chamber organizations on the West Coast, with musicians from various parts of the world (violinist Catherine Leonard is Irish, violist Richard O'Neill is Korean and pianist Warren Jones is a New Yorker with regular frequent flyer currency to Southern California). They now perform a full season with monthly concert stops in Santa Barbara, Ventura and points Los Angeles-bound.
Much has changed, and some values remain. While the baroque element has been stripped away by now, to the dismay of some of us baroque buffs, another aspect of the Camerata's operations has continued through the years.
As if to state its case upfront, kicking off its 20th season, Friday at Hahn Hall, the group offered the West Coast premiere of an enchanting 2005 piece by Chinese-born composer Huang Ruo, "To the Four Corners." When Mr. Spence asked the audience for a show of hands of those in attendance at the Bach Camerata's first concert, a few hands shot up, and someone groaned half-jokingly about "that whale thing," referring to George Crumb's "Vox Balaneae (Voice of the Whale)."
All these years later, Camerata audiences have grown accustomed to the sound of the new and relatively new, even if sometimes just to weather it before the more conventional repertoire comes to roost on a program. So it went on this night in Hahn Hall.
"To the Four Corners" represents a strong example of the new creative spirits energizing the classical music world via Chinese composers. Mr. Ruo, born in China in 1976 and living in the United States since 1995, has a broad musical palette, from East to West, and from avant-garde to pop.
In this quintet piece, the composer deftly accesses matters of subtle theatricality, a probing focus on pure instrumental sonority, visceral sonic powers and an evocative sense of staging. Drawing on the ancient Chinese theater form called "Nuo," the music has a ritual character and manages to be both ancient and tethered to contemporary musical ideas. An elaborate lighting apparatus onstage allowed for a degree of lighting flexibility rare in classical music settings.
Musically, the language is fluid and shifting, from gently dissonant lines to sweetly melancholic tunes, passed from player to player. Culture-bending is another function of the music, which opens in a more identifiably Chinese direction with stark percussion statements, by the impressive Ji Hye Jung, gliding sideways into Jose Franch-Ballester's clarinet part. From the more Euro-centric sound of the clarinet, the focus shifts to more Chinese-related timbres of Mr. Spence's flute and the bowed and plucked string sounds of Ms. Leonard on violin and Mr. O'Neill on viola.
All is not purely instrumental or typically chamber-esque, by the usual standards. Into the theatrical mixture come vocalizing and whispering, and musicians at one point are instructed to move slowly around the stage. At the end of the piece, as lights fade, a drum tolled and musicians threw up bits of paper in a snow-like visual eruption. It all adds up to a beguiling 20-minute work, at once challenging and comforting, by turns, and given a dynamic and persuasive realization by the Camerata.
Moving back squarely into more conventional chamber music terrain, piano quartet repertoire was the subject of the post-intermission concert. The always on-target pianist Warren Jones, who was just in Santa Barbara this summer in his usual faculty position with the Music Academy of the West, and who played a recital concert with Talise Trevigne at the Granada on Saturday night, was a focal point of the performance. He excelled, playing alongside Ms. Leonard, Mr. O'Neill and cellist Ani Aznavoorian, in works of the Spanish composer Joaquin Turin and Beethoven.
Turin's Quartet in A Minor for Piano and Strings, Opus 67, written in 1931, combines signature Andalusian sounds with Impressionist-like qualities, from across the border with France. Beethoven's quartet in E-flat for Piano and String, Opus 16 is one of countless beautiful jewels in Beethoven's oeuvre, this from his Haydn-esque early period.
In both cases, the quartet played with the kind of poise and ensemble sensitivity we've come to expect from the group. They even proceeded boldly and undaunted during a technical gaffe when the lights onstage went off and the house lights went up in the second movement. The show must and does go on, 20 years into the Camerata Pacifica adventure.