CONCERT REVIEW: The thrill and melancholy of the new : Camerata Pacifica program highlighted by substantial world premiere

Santa Barbara News-Press
By Josef Woodard
March 16, 2014

CONCERT REVIEW: The thrill and melancholy of the new : Camerata Pacifica program highlighted by substantial world premiere

In classical music culture, there are world premieres and then there are world premieres. Often, for reasons of scale, financial bearings and audience attention spans, a newly commissioned and unveiled work will be of modest means, a concert-opener or a light menu bon bon. And then, more rarely, there we encounter the category of larger-scaled and larger-minded, substantive works of the sort that Russian-born composer Lera Auerbach’s new brainchild, “Dreamusik,” officially premiered in Los Angeles by the Camerata Pacifica on Thursday, but locally debuted by the group at Hahn Hall on Friday night.

A nearly half-hour piece for an adeptly orchestrated 10-musician chamber ensemble, with formidable CamPac cellist Ani Aznavoorian as soloist protagonist, the new piece was another impressive creation by the composer in connection with this specific chamber group. Written as a memorial to her late husband, “Dreamusik” flows with a melancholy grace and enigmatic state of unease, like an emotional settling of conflicting impressions, with no easy answers or resolutions and a half-waking, wandering spirit. But as a cohesive piece of music, it brings us into its beautiful depths and language of tensions-and-releases, consonance and dissonance.

On a frustrating note, though, this program’s much anticipated would-be concert opener, “Catch Opus 4,” by the prominent mid-career British composer Thomas Adés, was mysteriously scrapped, with the cryptic excuse of “unforeseen circumstances” offered by pianist Adam Neiman. It’s a shame, as this very hall rang out with the provocative splendor of Mr. Adés’ powerful string quartet “Arcadiana,” masterfully played by the Calder Quartet, two weeks ago, and this could have been secondary wave of Adés affirmation in the house. We need more Adés in the 805, after all.

Substituting for the missing tooth of a piece, but with a distinctly non-Adés-ish spirit, Mr. Neiman presented his own neo-romantic pleasantry “Serenade,” for piano and violin. Violinist Tereza Stanislav, an impressive new voice in the CamPac family this season, offered a gorgeous tone and expressive elan to the simple allure of the score. Next up, Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Opus 115, featuring the fine clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, provided a peaceful and reflective repast, but which wore out its welcome and made this program overlong.

After intermission, the instrumental spotlight turned to frequent CamPac guest artist, English oboist Nicholas Daniel, playing a quirky obscurity by countryman Brit composer Britten. His slight but intriguing “Temporal Variations,” for oboe and piano, premiered in 1936 to roundly lambasting reviews, and was relegated to the shelf — a kitchen cabinet shelf, in fact — until being rediscovered in 1980, after Britten’s death. A very varied nine-part piece, the score is by turns lyrical and petulant, edgily angular and caked with salted harmonies, with a lovely chorale in the middle, a sassy little polka, and a quixotic finale with a teetering two-tone oboe part against an atonal piano matrix.

When we got to what we came here for, it was nearly two hours after the concert started and ears were perhaps not as fresh as hoped for. But immediately, Ms. Auerbach’s persuasive, and post-impressionistic tone poetry won us over. Also a painter and a literary artist, the composer herself introduced the piece, by way of a newly-penned poem about life, the power and seduction of sleep, and the renewal of music, speaking of finding refuge at the piano, where, for her, “a gigantic treble clef unlocks any troubles.”

Somehow, we got the sense of a natural yet inquisitive mind at work behind “Dreamusik,” which opens in a hushed, sleep-meets-waking way, with clear melodic statements from the cellist on the platform, delivered with the expected aplomb and sensitivity we’ve come to know from Ms. Aznavoorian. Her part, throughout, weaves and synchs with the surrounding ensemble parts, which alternately lock into the lead part and take a hover and color tack.

In keeping with the memorial aspect of the music, a certain stern elegiac character is conveyed — especially in the cello part — but with plenty of enigmatic qualities to suggest a loose and free-ish spirit. Structurally, the seamless score is an evolving and, yes, dream-like flow and edifice, full of fleeting musical ideas and picturesque imagery. Strange, and sometimes disjointed, as it seems, some narrative through-line keeps it in check. It ends on a ghostly, wind-like cello sound rising, like a wispy, whispering ascents to another realm.

All in all, the work has that kind of internal, inevitable logic of a dream scenario we experience without question, but ponder and try to make sense of later. Sure enough, “Dreamusik” has this listener, and no doubt many others, mulling it over days later.

In short, despite earlier disappointments, it was a noble and notable night in Santa Barbara’s classical season in progress.