Ensemble Monterey/Cantiamo!

John AndersonBy Scott MacClelland

JOHN AND CHERYL ANDERSON, he of Monterey Peninsula College, she of Cabrillo College, have what I am guessing is the most fun of their lives in springing new and unusual music on their growing audiences of the Monterey Peninsula and in Santa Cruz. This has been going on for decades. They bring their respective resources, his Ensemble Monterey orchestra and chamber groups and her Cantiamo! Choir, twice each year, during the holidays before Christmas and in the spring. (Cheryl runs the entire choral program at Cabrillo, from the large Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus—which annually teams up with the Santa Cruz Symphony—to the Cabrillo Youth Chorus.)

Meanwhile, here they were together, each conducting half of a collaborative concert in Carmel that included two regional premieres, the Serenade in D of 1859 by the 27-year-old Johannes Brahms and an ecstatic “Te Deum” written in 2002 by the Latvian composer Rihards Dubra. The performance took place at All Saints Church, no doubt in part because of its organ parts required by both the Dubra and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

Under John Anderson’s direction, the nine-piece ensemble performed the “original” version of the Brahms serenade, a work in six movements modeled on the Classical-era divertimento, a kind of background music that, in the time of Haydn and Mozart, would have typically been played during a party. Of course Mozart elevated that sort of diversion to a much higher level, as did Brahms. The instrumentation in an edition by Alan Boustead uses two clarinets along with one each violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute and horn, all splendidly played by well-known chamber musicians from both counties. The reading lasted a heavenly 48 minutes. As clarinetist Jeff Gallagher remarked afterward, “Even if you’d never heard it you still get the feeling that somehow you had.” For the self-doubting composer at that stage of his life, it has his recognizable fingerprints all over it. A special nod to Scott Hartman whose totally exposed horn carried a disproportionate burden to triumph.

Even though Bernstein had mixed feelings about his “tonal” psalm settings, a Cheryl Anderson 2commission by Chichester Cathedral, the piece, sung in Hebrew, is no walk in the park. Voice-leading, complex rhythms and a high order of counterpoint have undone many a chorus who took it on. But Cheryl Anderson’s Cantiamo! and Cabrillo Youth Chorus stood up handsomely for the challenge in the chamber version that uses only percussion, harp (Jennifer Cass) and organ (Leah Zumberge). Madeleine Demers, from the Youth Chorus, sang the innocent solo in the second movement, intended by the composer for a boy soprano.

The following Dubra piece calls for separate choirs of boys, girls, men and women, sometimes in mixed combinations, plus tubular bells, tam-tam, soprano saxophone, horn and organ. It began softly with the bells then underwent a series of climactic surges that, along with its unusual instrumentation, gave it its ecstactic character. The Bernstein and the Dubra together last slightly more than 30 minutes.

Ensemble Monterey, which has long-performed in Santa Cruz and hires numerous Santa Cruz musicians, has traditionally been overlooked by Santa Cruz media. There’s no excuse for it, of course. But it might be time for Ensemble Monterey to change its name to Ensemble Monterey Bay. After all, that’s a more accurate reflection of who they are and where they perform.

Monterey Symphony

Juan-Perez-Floristan-c-Antonio-del-Junco

By Scott MacClelland

FELIX MENDELSSOHN’S souvenir of his visit to Italy in 1830-31, his “Italian” Symphony, launched Sunday’s Monterey Symphony program in a full-bodied, broadly shaped reading under the purposeful direction of Max Bragado-Darman, the orchestra’s music director. These days, it’s popular for conductors of “authentic” performance practice to take the work at brisker tempi, at the possible risk of blurring fine details. That was not Bragado’s approach. Even the final movement, salterello, a bristling 6/8 meter dance originally from Tuscany, was taken at a relaxed tempo. A typical performance of the symphony lasts about 30 minutes, sometimes less; Bragado’s went to 34.

The piece recycles the best of the classical models, a sonata-allegro first movement and an ABA minuet/trio third movement—whose trio section is itself also in ABA, with its “A” featuring two horns framing a “B” orchestral elaboration.

I have not yet found documentation of Berlioz’ original exposure to the “Italian” Symphony, but it must have been early on; Mendelssohn’s second movement, Andante con moto, is plainly the inspiration for “The Pilgrim’s March” in the French composers’s Harold in Italy composed in 1834. (Berlioz heaped praise on Mendelssohn but the compliment was emphatically not returned.)

Seville-native Juan Pérez Floristán, now 25, may lack the wisdom of age, but he certainly made Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 his own, giving it an alternatively masculine and feminine character. He pumped up for the powerful bits but grew deeply circumspect at every expressive opportunity to do so. Moreover, he was as attuned to Bragado as the conductor was to him.

The Brahms concerto can never be diminished. It’s a flawed masterpiece—the final rondo movement is congested with an excessive of craft—but it also brings out the best from those who dare to perform it.

At 55-minutes, this performance, like the Mendelssohn symphony, was longer than typical. Its grand opening allegro ran a full 20 minutes, with each of the other three about 10 minutes apiece. In a letter to Clara Schumann, Brahms poo-pooed the second movement, Allegro appassionata, as “a little wisp of a scherzo,” when in fact it is an inspired highlight of the entire work, where bold muscular themes are alternated between the piano and the orchestra. The third movement, Andante, opens and closes with a memorable melody for solo cello, played in this case by the orchestra’s assistant principal, Adelle-Akiko Kearns.

Given the grand scale of the Brahms, I expected no encore. But, lo, Pérez Floristán returned to the keyboard, charmed the audience by describing this his US debut, the felicities of Sunset Center and his hope of returning soon. He then proceeded to play Plangente, a moody tango-habanera by Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), a Brazilian contemporary of Elgar, Mahler, Puccini and, stylewise, Scott Joplin.