Crossing The Line
Ensemble Monterey journeys south of the border; Amy Knoles visits electronic frontier.
Thursday, March 11, 1999
When they packed the music hall at Monterey Peninsula College last Saturday, it was not to hear the familiar. Instead, the enthusiastic crowd came for adventure in the form of "Other Americas," an evening south of the border with Ensemble Monterey.
In terms of its mission to perform excellent but underexposed works, this program ventured as far afield as any EM has done so far. Probably the name Manuel de Falla was most familiar, even if his American claim is slight (in protest to the Franco regime in Spain, he spent the last decade of his life in Argentina) and his neo-baroque Harpsichord Concerto was written in Spain. Add a rare song set by Alberto Ginastera, Carlos Chavez''s "imaginary Aztec music" Xochipilli, and two works each by Carlos Surinach of Spain (expatriated to New York) and the mischievous Mexican, Silvestre Revueltas, and you almost start hearing in Spanish.
Almost, because the one thing missing from the performances was the Hispanic inflection innate to most of this music. Though styled with originality, Surinach''s Ritmo Hondo and Tres Cantos Bereberes are rooted in a folkloric idiom whose cadences in this case were taken for granted. Likewise, Revueltas'' mariachi parody Ocho x Radio and brilliant Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca, which at least attracted a more earnest effort.
Fortunately, percussionist Xiomara Di Maio gave idiomatic authority to several program items, notably the Revueltas, Chavez, and the Ginastera, where she accompanied soprano Cheryl Anderson on a wooden caja drum. These four Cantos del Tucuman used a delicate instrumentation that included flute, violin and harp. In the second Surinach, cellist Margie Dally, among her chamber colleagues, filled the room with highly exposed and richly expressive sonorities. For the Falla, Melinda Coffey made the harpsichord''s tiny voice speak volumes while her colleague flute, oboe, clarinet and violin inflicted martele outbursts and deliberately on-edge harmonies. In the Chavez, whose six percussionists produced the evening''s greatest impact, Carl Christensen''s conch-shell playing raised conchiousness all around. During a post-performance reception, EM Music Director John Anderson admitted to some pre-concert apprehension about the audience-appeal of the program, but happily reported that the musicians were totally enthusiastic about it. Ensemble Monterey is getting better all the time. Now if we can just get them to exchange their formal black and whites for couture that better fits their adventuresome spirit...
Not only the newest music, but a sonic kaleidoscope visited the Salinas Concert Association Feb. 26 when percussionist/composer Amy Knoles and her assistant, a computer, came to Hartnell College. Using drumsticks and mallets, Knoles played on what looked like an outsized piano keyboard, but produced an amazing range of sounds, all either synthesized or concrte (drawn from actual acoustic sources). As the artist explained, this was a "portable" mode of presenting music she and others have composed on commission for concert use and to accompany such diverse projects as documentaries and visual art exhibitions. At the performer''s right were an IBM laptop and a synthesizer which "sampled" the edited bits and fragments that represented an orchestral range of instruments and, in one case, a spoken narrative purposely made to sound like it was being heard through a telephone line.
With sticks or mallets, Knoles played vigorously on the pads of the keyboard, while instrumental voices mysteriously morphed through timbres of winds, brass, percussion, strings, rock bands and jazz combos. When the tones sounded like percussion, it was easy to see the connection. But when a drum stroke provoked a string phrase, bewilderment was inevitable.
Six different short pieces covered a remarkable spectrum of musical invention, often depending on such familiar devices as theme, sequence and ostinato. The opening Curandero by Martin Espino captured a reveille of jungle bird cries. Knoles'' own Rabelais'' Angels evoked spooky plainchant. In the last piece, Knoles'' electronic arrangement of Rand Steiger''s Frame(s), the artist synthesized a percussion tour de force that included tom-toms, cymbals, wood blocks, chimes, bells, snares, gongs, piano and more. Here was a combination of improvised virtuosity on top of extremely responsive electronics that has found its way more and more into contemporary music and the popular media, including movies. These works, per se, made no claim to immortality. But there will certainly come a time when technologies like these will be put to that test.
According to board chairman Carl Christensen, the Salinas Concert Association needs to stimulate and attract new subscribers. To do so, he asked everyone present to spread the word that 1997 Van Cliburn Competition winner Jon Nakamatsu will appear in recital to open the 1999-2000 SCA season. (The amazing story of how Nakamatsu came to win the prestigious concours is the subject of a June ''98 Reader''s Digest profile.) The season will also include Salinas appearances by Swing Fever (jazz band), cellist James Wilson (of the Shanghai Quartet), pianist Melinda Coffey & Friends, and the Theater Ballet from Brigham Young University. Remaining this season is the contemporary dance ensemble, Spector Dance, scheduled to appear at Hartnell on April 24.
Last Week''s Quiz What 19th-century composer described Chopin''s mazurkas as "cannons hidden beneath flowers"? Answer Robert Schumann.
This Week''s Quiz In which of his works did Manuel de Falla quote Beethoven''s Fifth Symphony? cw
Annual Pro-Am Concert Sunday, 3pm. John Larry Granger conducts Honors Orchestra paired with professional musicians in Grofe''s Grand Canyon Suite, Lalo''s Symphonie espagnole featuring HO concertmaster Doug Liou. Youth Orchestra performs Knipper, Tchaikovsky, Willson. Performing Arts Center, Santa Catalina School, 1500 Mark Thomas Dr., Monterey. $5/general, $3/students and seniors. Sponsored by Youth Music Monterey, 375-1992.
Chamber Music at Colton Hall Wednesday, 8pm. Heartstrings performs an evening of Celtic music. Colton Hall, Monterey City Hall, Pacific Street, Monterey. Reservations required, 646-5640.