I Cantori’s ‘Salute to Sal’

By Louis LebherzSal.

SAL FERRANTELLI BID FAREWELL to his loyal I Cantori de Carmel choir by conducting two emotional performances last weekend at Carmel Mission. Heard Saturday, the event included a vocal quartet—Katherine Edison, Linda Purdy, Arthur Wu and Reg Huston—and a chamber orchestra led by David Dally. For thirty-six years Ferrantelli has inspired and enlightened thousands of singers, concertgoers and students with his passion for music and demand for attention to detail while always striving for artistic excellence. It has been a blessing to the Monterey Peninsula to have had such a person on the podium. Ferrantelli was originally chosen by a group of local singers from the Carmel Bach Festival chorus who wanted to form a year-round choral ensemble. At that time. Ferrantelli had only recently arrived as a professor of music at Monterey Peninsula College. Since 1982 he has led the ensemble through a full range of music from ancient to modern, including a number of his own original compositions written expressly for I Cantori.

The program for this weekend was a retrospective of sorts. It included the first composition performed by the group in its inaugural concert, Thomas Weelkes’ madrigal “Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints Above.”  The acapella piece was accurately and expressively presented. One could immediately sense the love and melancholy filling each singer. These were the elements that permeated the whole of the evening’s selections. The highlight of the concert was “Wie Lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,” the middle of three movements from Johannes Brahms’ great Ein Deutsches RequiemThe orchestra and singers united in a rich, sonorous rendering of this great chorus.

The second half of the concert began with Ferrantelli’s 2008 composition, “Selig Sind die da Leid Tragen.” The influence and inspiration of Brahms was apparent in this setting, especially having just heard the same text as it was set by Brahms in the first half of the concert. Ferrantelli dedicated the piece to I Cantori, “with deepest gratitude for 36 years as their conductor.”

The rest of the concert was all Beethoven. The choir with orchestra and solo quartet performed first the “Kyrie” from Beethoven’s massive Missa Solemnis, Op.123, followed by the “Kyrie” and “Gloria” from Beethoven’s earlier Mass in C Op.86. The music filled the basilica and an enthusiastic audience stood and applauded as Ferrantelli wiped the perspiration from his face and the tears from his eyes.

It is a noble legacy that Ferrantelli has left on the Monterey Peninsula. To have an opportunity to hear a full, well trained and rehearsed chorus and orchestra as they perform the great works of the masters is becoming more and more a rarity in our country. Although the limitation of amateur singers, and the under-rehearsing of the orchestra due to time and financial restraints may lead to an occasional wrong note or intonation, what one gets instead is an enthusiasm and emotional commitment to the music that may not always be the case with paid professionals and an ample budget. The obvious love of music and for Dr. Ferrantelli filled the Carmel Mission, and the audience responded in kind.

Ensemble Monterey & Cantiamo! Cabrillo

By Scott MacClelland

TO CONCLUDE their 25th anniversary season, Ensemble Monterey and Cantiamo! Cabrillo handed out a lavish, full color souvenir program book in celebration of their world premiere of Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds’ Sunset in My Hand, an original commission subtitled “Ancient Voices of the Wild Pacific Coast.”

Eriks-Esenvalds-OfficialFor the first of two performances, Ešenvalds (right) was present at Cypress Church in Corral de Tierra on Saturday. He had accepted the challenge and, from what I have learned, was working on it right up to the last hour. Four poems and John Steinbeck’s description of coast redwoods were set to music that, in concert, positioned Cheryl Anderson’s select chorus behind John Anderson’s orchestra, with Cheryl’s 30-plus member Cabrillo Youth Chorus on risers in front of the orchestra. Even before the children began to sing, it made quite a visual impression. (The Anderson’s are the region’s ‘power couple,’ he at Monterey Peninsula College, she at Cabrillo College.)

And it also hemmed in its composer to what, otherwise, might have been a more adventurous artistic vision; the music for the Youth Chorus was naturally scaled to the abilities of youngsters approximately 8 through 12. Still, Ensemble Monterey scored a highly musical coup for a colorful orchestra of winds, brass, strings and percussion. The Youth Chorus had memorized their parts and, as deployed, took their cues from Cheryl Anderson who was seated down front. She and they added that big ‘aww’ factor.

The piece opened with Cantiamo! Cabrillo and Ensemble Monterey in Sara Teasdale’s “The Storm,” a musical setting of great turbulence aboard a ship at sea that, ultimately, subsided into calm. The poet’s verse is as much metaphor as literal and Ešenvalds captured it in both senses.

Then the Youth Chorus streamed in and took their place before joining orchestra and chorus for Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to the Smell of Firewood,” an English translation by Joseph Stroud who had just previously recited the words. The children sat out Dana Gioia’s “Prayer at Winter Solstice,” an emotionally moving ‘beatitude’ memorial to the poet’s infant son. The piece was sung to the tick-tock of a metronome and included hand bells and solos on violin, flute and oboe.

The Youth Chorus participated in the remaining three settings, John Steinbeck’s awe-inspired description of “ambassadors from another time,” “Evening Ebb” by Robinson Jeffers (the children played triangles; one had a rainstick) and Grace MacGowan Cooke’s “I Hold the Sunset in My Hand,” the verse that inspired the title for entire cycle. The two choruses alternated, the one singing while the other hummed, with flute, violin and oboe solos.

This piece, which also includes tuned crystals and singing bowls, is already scheduled for its second production elsewhere. It will most certainly be commercially recorded. Each of its movements was sponsored by longtime Ensemble Monterey and Cantiamo! Cabrillo fans, as was the a cappella “The Long Road,” in which Ešenvalds set a ‘love’ verse by Pauline Barda. The complexly textured piece that climaxed on the words “High above the arch of heaven bends,” in which the chorus hummed crescendos and decrescendos. A native flute added a haunting echo. Though this was the Andersons’ introduction to Ešenvalds, the performance fell short of its inherent impact.

The concert opened with the 30-minute, three-movement piano concerto by the late Stephen Tosh. Soloist Leah Parker Zumberge gave it a fine, authoritative performance (and provided the excellent program note) as did John Anderson’s orchestra. I would be hard-pressed to say that Tosh’s style was independently clear because of its abundant echoes of Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel, Bernstein and other jazzy tropes. But ultimately, it’s a fine classically-formed work of impeccable craftsmanship.

The orchestras for the Ešenvalds and the Tosh were slightly different and a few of the instrumentalists’ names did not make into the program book. But everyone else involved, including all the children, did. An audience of about 300 fans pretty well filled up the hilltop Cypress Church overlooking the Monterey-Salinas Highway, and, at concert conclusion, gave Ešenvalds, orchestra and choruses, and their respective conductors, prolonged cheers and applause.