Camerata Pacifica: Steam-Punk Perfect

Camerata Pacifica: Steam-Punk Perfect

January 22, 2016

By Daniel Kepl

Casa Magazine


FASHIONISTAS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY INSPIRED AND ÜBER CLOCKWORK ACCESSORIZED COUTURE CRAZE KNOWN AS STEAMPUNK could not have been disappointed last Friday night at Hahn Hall on the Music Academy of the West campus, as Camerata Pacifica musicians, dressed to the nines in post nineteenth century, latter day Goth apocalyptic-inspired habit, invited those old enough to remember the 60s television series The Wild Wild West, or its 1999 Kevin Kline, Will Smith big screen knock-off, to break bread at the alter of fantastical wardrobe, while also dining on a tasty and diverse program of delicious contemporary music.

Camerata Artistic Director Adrian Spence, sporting a superb and home-grown Van Buren moustache, his otherwise agreeable Edwardian suit topped with a raven-winged hat from some Poe nightmare, joined his compatriots in silliness: Nicholas Daniel, oboe (Dickensian noir); Jose Franch-Ballester, clarinet (Edwardian merchant class?); Amy Harmon, bassoon (Victorian vixen); Martin Owen, horn (Artful Dodger plaid trousers, trophy hat, and goggles); Kristin Lee, violin (mysterious in Victorian lace and peacock hat); Morgan O’Shaughnessey, viola (leather vest and kilts); Ani Aznavoorian, cello (feathers, boa, and spats); and Timothy Eckert, double bass (punk perfect) for the opening work on the program, David Bruce’s often amusing, sometimes knotty take on the Industrial Revolution, his octet Steampunk, composed in 2010. Folk elements, accessible and sometimes Looney Tunes, an array of colors, and insistent rhythms characterized the 22-minute, five-movement work.

Stephen Hartke’s trio from 1997, The Horse with the Lavender Eye, Episodes for Violin, Clarinet and Piano featured clarinetist Franch-Ballester, joined by violinist Paul Huang (ascot, black cap, and worsted tailcoat circa 1840s), and pianist Warren Jones (black vested and derby topped). Four movements were given beautifully clean, bright readings. Franch-Ballester’s E-flat clarinet touches were particularly gratifying, especially in the last movement, Cancel My Rumba Lesson.

Sean Friar’s 2009 quintet, Velvet Hammer, brought flutist Spence, clarinetist Franch-Ballester, pianist Jones, double bassist Eckert, and newcomer Mak Grgic, electric guitar (jack booted with spooky shades) to the stage. Friar’s seven minute work explored the color capabilities of the electric guitar in a chamber music setting and discreetly proved, even during passages of amplified sonic hysteria, the instrument has a place in art music.

After intermission, the ensemble’s wardrobe tuned down a notch to accommodate the vibe of an Edwardian soirée, the Cameratans gave
the full house works by Percy Grainger and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Pianist Jones, who had been sitting alone at the keyboard in Rodin-like contemplation through most of the intermission, came to life as the audience settled in, opening the set with Percy Grainger’s piano arrangement of Gabriel Fauré’s Après un Reve, Trois Melodies, Op. 7 for Voice and Piano to a text by Romaine Bussine. Reciting from memory Bussine’s poem first, Jones then proceeded to transform the mood of the evening, plunging us into the romanticism of the late nineteenth century with a profound performance, also from memory, of Grainger’s superbly touching adaptation.

Stanford’s stroll through an English countryside, his Serenade (Nonet) in F Major, Op. 95 was the delightful finale to an extraordinarily fun evening. Flutist Spence was joined by clarinetist Franch-Ballester; bassoonist Harman; Owen on horn; violinists Huang and Lee; violist O’Shaughnessey; cellist Aznavoorian, and double bassist Eckert for an altogether pleasant, even sentimental perambulation through Stanford’s melodious world.

Daniel Kepl has been writing music, theatre, and dance reviews for Santa Barbara publications since he was a teenager. His professional expertise is as an orchestra conductor.

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