Camerata Pacifica caps its season with stirring new work

By Rita Moran
May 24, 2007

It was a dark and stormy day inside Music Academy of the West’s Abravanel Hall last Friday when Ian Wilson’s “Messenger” Concerto for Violin and Chamber Ensemble premiered under the auspices of Camerata Pacifica.

The Belfast-born composer, already building a career of note, was present for the performance led by the Camerata’s principal violinist, Catherine Leonard, also Irish, as is the ensemble’s artistic director Adrian Spence. On each audience chair could be found a letter from Irish President Mary McAleese in support of the Irish artists.

The music itself, Wilson explained in brief pre-concert comments, was inspired not by green fields of Ireland but by the ravaged landscape of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he and his wife spent time leading up to the spring of 1999 and the NATO bombing that the family fled on the third night in a dash for the Hungarian border. Wilson called the concerto “a testament to fear, anger and determination.”

The four-part work vividly reflected the turmoil of the time, with its restless first message introduced by Leonard, who drove the emotional tenor of the piece throughout, with frequent soaring into harmonics that helped set off the violin from the rest of the instrumentation: oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, piano, violins, viola, cello, bass trumpet and trombone.

The dense sound mellowed a bit in the second message, “for Adam,” a son born just weeks earlier. The final two messages were written when the family was safely back in Northern Ireland, the third mirroring the adapting of their lives to a different political climate and the final, “for Belgrade,” in which keening can be heard in its funereal strains.

Pianist Warren Jones, who always seemed to have a hand to spare, coordinated the performance with deft gestures.

“Messenger,” heard at Friday’s lunchtime concert, was played again Friday night in Santa Barbara, Saturday in Los Angeles, Sunday afternoon in Ventura and Tuesday in The Huntington Library, San Marino. Commissioned by local philanthropists Luci and Richard Janssen, the work also will be performed in April 2008 in the Library of Congress. Wilson earlier wrote a full-orchestra version of the work, also featuring Leonard.

Camerata Pacifica’s 2007-08 season will begin in September, with its first Ventura performance set for Sept. 16 in Temple Beth Torah.

The concert will feature Barry Douglas, an Irish pianist and 1986 gold medalist at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, performing works by Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt. For tickets, call 884-8410.