Call Your Ma

By Charles Donelan
February 15, 2007

Camerata Pacifica continues to follow its formula of juxtaposing “difficult” modern compositions with the more adventurous aspects of the standard repertoire. Typically, the first half of the program offers the avant-garde fireworks, while the second soothes with virtuosity in the service of the old masters. This time out the newer works were by Takemitsu, Crumb, and Turnage, while the older pieces were by Beethoven and Debussy.

The Takemitsu was up first—“Rain Spell.” It required relative darkness and blue lighting from the stage crew, multiphonics from the flautist (Adrian Spence), a harp (Marcia Dickstein), a clarinet (Carol McGonnell), a piano (Robert Thies), and a vibraphone (Doug Perkins). This highly wrought music is saturated with Takemitsu’s characteristic devotion to an existential awareness of “ma,” the constitutive silence out of which all music arises. Takemitsu’s music grows more enchanting with every listen, and to hear it properly one must experience it live. This was a stunning performance and a triumph of interpretive mastery for the group.

For George Crumb’s “Eleven Echos of Autumn,” Spence, McGonnell, and Thies remained onstage, joined by Catherine Leonard on the violin. The work builds from a “bell motive” and passes through a series of arch-like echoing climaxes, some of which involve the clarinet and the flute being played into the open piano with its sustain pedal down. Crumb’s characteristic urgency was especially evident in Leonard’s sharp attacks and McGonnell’s plaintive explorations of the motive. The piece includes a whispered phrase from the poetry of Garcia Lorca that is repeated one time each by the violinist and the flautist. Very spooky and thoroughly autumnal in the best sense, this performance was also insistently dramatic and indelible from the memory.

After the interval, Thies played a short and delicate solo homage to Takemitsu which was reminiscent of Satie and written by the contemporary composer Mark Anthony Turnage. Then Leonard came onstage to unleash two passionate sonatas for violin and piano, the first by Claude Debussy and the second by Beethoven, the No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 “Spring.” Her playing was, as usual, replete with crystal-clear musicality, taste, and passion. The effect was spellbinding and the satisfaction was total. There are few chamber ensembles anywhere that can approach either the intelligently adventurous programming or the stylish bravura musicianship of the current Camerata Pacifica. Long may they reign.