Adrian Spence – The Protective Founding Father
By Daniel Kepl
January 3, 2014
Admitting he had yielded reluctantly to a first ever CD recording project for his world-class Santa Barbara-based chamber music ensemble Camerata Pacifica, Artistic Director Adrian Spence confessed he had at last succumbed to an offer too good to pass up. 24 seasons and several offers by vying classical music labels later, he and seven of his Camerata colleagues were in New York City this week preparing to record a CD of chamber music by American composer John Harbison for the prestigious and internationally distributed classical music label Harmonia Mundi.
Catching up with Spence by phone in his Mid-Manhattan hotel room on New Year’s Eve, the discussion perambulated between programming he has selected for Camerata Pacifica’s next concert at Hahn Hall on Friday, January 10th and the Harmonia Mundi recording sessions, which will take place over three days in the acoustically acclaimed recital hall at State University New York at Purchase. Convergence, if a long time in coming, was the take away from our conversation.
Spence made no bones about his strong commitment to live audience outreach and long hesitation about getting involved in a recording project. “What I’m primarily interested in is what we do very well, which is the creation of a community of like-minded people that are willing to lean in and listen to the music that we perform. A release with Harmonia Mundi is such an endorsement, such a seal of approval, I couldn’t not record.
A revelation that surprised was Spence’s strong defense of a refreshing dogma. “Camerata Pacifica’s mission statement is not to present concerts,” he said as if such a remark would not ripple a still pond. “The mission statement is to effect positively how people experience classical music. The concerts are not the be all and end all. The be all and end all is the energy that exists in the auditorium with our audience, and we very actively have chosen to develop this energy over two decades.”
Intention and coincidence were lively anecdotes during our conversation. Spence has championed the music of American John Harbison for many years, and next Friday’s Hahn Hall recital will include a performance of the composer’s Piano Quintet as well as works by Brahms, Elliott Carter, and Haydn. Last September Camerata’s opening concert included two Harbison pieces in celebration of Spence’s announcement from the stage that Camerata Pacifica had succeeded in commissioning the busy composer to write a string trio – his first.
While initial talks with Harmonia Mundi had centered on making a CD of Mozart works, things U-turned at the beginning of the current season. “The principals of Harmonia Mundi came to our concert in September,” Spence remembered, “where we played Harbison’s Four Songs of Solitude and Songs America Loves to Sing, and they said they wanted to record those works along with the new String Trio we had just commissioned: they thought it would make a better disk. Who am I to argue, so I said fine, even though I now had to take seven musicians to New York City not three, so the dye was cast and here we are.” Confessing a novice understanding of the art of professional recording sessions, Spence is nevertheless sure of one thing. “What I don’t want is a take every measure, and edit every bar. So we’ll see, but I’m hoping the recording will be as edit-less as possible, and that’s not to diminish the opportunity. You don’t look that sort of gift horse in the mouth.”
Those who have watched Adrian Spence create and grow his remarkable Camerata Pacifica ensemble over 24 seasons can’t help ponder what drives talent that is both artistic and administrative. “I came to Santa Barbara when I was 25, and I’m very happy to be living in America,” the Irish expat shared. “The only thing that made it work was my complete ignorance and my inability to take no for an answer. I coined this little phrase: ‘no’ is just the first two letters of not yet. And unlike the people who cry ‘the sky is falling,’ I think the classical music world in the United States is thriving.”