Camerata concert takes flight

By Rita Moran
January 17, 2008

“Heft” was the name given by composer Ian Wilson to his new work for flute and piano that was premiered Sunday by Camerata Pacifica at Ventura’s Temple Beth Torah. It was left to flutist and Camerata founder Adrian Spence and pianist Warren Jones to do the heavy lifting in a demanding piece commissioned for the ensemble by Jordan and Sandra Laby.

Spence and Wilson, who share Northern Ireland roots, joined together for preconcert comments in which the daunting quality of the work shared the stage with the nervous energy of Irish humor. Jones and Spence had joined forces on Tuesday for a long rehearsal session after working separately on their roles, then had given an initial performance of the new work for a small gathering with the Labys on Wednesday. On Friday, they played it twice in Santa Barbara, but Spence said the progression of his comfort with the work was such that he considered Sunday’s performance the actual premiere.

As for Wilson, he detailed his inspiration for the piece, quoting from Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” the words of an old Arabic conqueror of Alexandria: “I dreamt that heaven lay close upon the earth, and I between them both, breathing through the eye of a needle.” In response to Spence’s interest in substance, he has employed extended passages in which the flute, soprano and alto, plays two distinct notes through one placement, creating a soft flutter effect. His thematic ideas, he said, were dropped “like bread crumbs along the way.”

Perhaps because the sound of a flute is so closely related to the call or coo of a bird, without Wilson’s explanation of the thoughtful underpinning of the piece, audiences may close their eyes and envision birds, tiny or imperious, gathering for communal moments on Earth and in flight. The two-note technique, which Spence approached with considerable concentration, does evoke a gentle, ethereal mood, different but just as intriguing on either the soaring soprano or mellow alto flute. Exciting passages of flight and more somber ruminations were enhanced by the close coordination between flute and piano, with Jones a prescient collaborator.

American composer John Harbison’s Piano Quintet (1981) opened the program, with violinists Catherine Leonard and Songa Lee, cellist Ani Aznavoorian and violist Richard O’Neill joining Jones. Written in honor of painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Harbison’s work highlights the drama and simplicity of her art, with dynamic contrasts in the Overture and clear-cut thrusts in the following movements: the zesty pizzicato of the Capriccio, the haunting exploration of the Intermezzo and the forthright punch of the Purletta. The final Elegia resonates with tellingly solemn notes. Harbison’s quintet, along with Mozart’s brief Adagio in B Minor, something of an anomaly in style and key for the composer and played Sunday with depth and assurance by Jones, will be part of the program Camerata Pacifica takes on tour when it visits Ireland and England in late April and early May.

Sunday’s program concluded with Mozart’s sprightly Trio for Piano and Strings in G Major, with Jones, Leonard and Aznavoorian, three superb musicians, merrily making their way through another irresistible work by Mozart.