Season of Truth--This season may mark Ensemble Monterey's coming of age.
Thursday, November 5, 1998
In launching its new season, Ensemble Monterey has shifted into a higher gear. They''ve raised the ante, artistically and financially.
While this is a risky step for a still-young endeavor, it''s a necessary one. In the past, EM''s musicians have occasionally not made all rehearsals due to conflicting engagements that offered better pay. As of this season, EM has developed a fully funded budget for rehearsals and concerts, and improvement was tangible at last Wednesday''s opening program at Monterey Peninsula College. In a program of rare pleasures, the level of musicianship remained high throughout. The music was deliciously focused, and delivered with confidence and elan.
This was no mean feat, given the also-higher demands of the repertoire. The entire season is studded with works of exceptional technical and style challenges, including numerous masterpieces. In this first program, comprising works of Prokofiev, Harrison, d''Indy and Martinu, transparent textures and delicate instrumentation accorded the musicians no place to conceal flaws. Happily, none of significance perturbed the proceedings.
Now 81, Lou Harrison attended the performance of his Seven Pastorales, and provided comment on each of the movements. (Without any stretch of imagination, Harrison is an American musical treasure, lately given a splendid biography by Leta Miller and Fred Lieberman published by Oxford University Press.) The work, composed around 1950 and inspired by Virgil''s Eclogues, honors several colleagues and loved ones, and uses its flutes, oboe, harp and strings with great variety and colors. The fourth movement--the most intimate--featured the warbling flutes of Stephanie Gelman-Peck and Marci Krause over the violin drones of David Dally and John Fairweather. The fifth movement, shimmered with gamelan tones and patterns.
Prokofiev''s Overture on Hebrew Themes, for strings, clarinet and piano, shares its roots with the symphonies and songs of Gustav Mahler. The sexy klezmer clarinet of Elizabeth Kilpatrick framed a sonorous central arch of surging strings, while pianist Melinda Coffey held the rhythms taut and true. In spite of the composer''s "legendary" influence, Vincent d''Indy''s Suite in Olden Style offers a limp, pre-Rafaelite idea of Baroque energy and integrates its trumpet part into the ensemble clumsily. In the hands of trumpeter Lennie Ott, however, the few solo moments fared much better.
Martinu''s La revue de cuisine lays a legitimate claim to being the first great jazz-styled concert work. It precedes Milhaud''s La creation du monde by one year, and Gershwin''s Rhapsody in Blue by two. And it ain''t easy to play. But pianist Coffey, string players David and Margie Dally, clarinetist Kilpatrick, trumpetist Ott and bassoonist David Grainger cut to the chase, fearlessly embracing the tango and Charleston rhythms which, against reasonable odds, had reached as far as the banks of the Vltava by 1922.
Ensemble Monterey''s music director John Anderson admits that much is on the line--the bottom line. But he has taken the right decision, and already it shows in the artistic product. I''ve seen plenty of evidence that area music lovers are growing tired of the same old 18th- and 19th-century repertoire. (Indeed, I live with one.) Ensemble Monterey is doing something about it, and with increasing style.
Last Week''s QuizWhat distinguishes the 16th century cornet from its 19th (and 20th) Century counterpart?
Answer: While both use a cup (trumpet) mouthpiece, the former was made of wood and had fingerholes while the latter is brass, uses valves and exhibits a much wider range.
This Week''s Quiz: Who wrote the music for Orson Welles'' newly restored masterpiece, Touch of Evil?
Friday/Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Rossini''s Barber of Seville, directed by Sid Cato, music direction by Stephen Tosh. Golden Bough Theatre, Monte Verde Street at 8th Avenue, Carmel. $25. 372-2721.
Santa Cruz County Symphony
Saturday, 8pm. John Larry Granger conducts Brahms'' Symphony 3 in F, Saint-Saens''s Cello Concerto in A Minor (featuring Klein String Competition winner Denise Djokic), Rimsky-Korsakov''s Russian Easter Overture. Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Ticket prices/reservations: 429-3444.
Saturday, 8pm. Performance Carmel hosts L.A.-based dance company. Sunset Center, San Carlos Street at 9th Avenue, Carmel. $16, $12.50. 624-3996.
Pianist Barbara Nissman
Wednesday, 8pm. Acclaimed concert/recording artist plays Beethoven''s >"Waldstein" Sonata, works of Chopin, Bartok, Debussy, Prokofiev. Music Center Recital Hall, U.C. Santa Cruz. $8/general, $5/seniors, $3/students. 459-2159.