Ensemble Monterey, Apr 9

By Scott MacClelland

I DON’T REMEMBER so much music packed into a two-hour concert, or so many people packed into St. Philip’s Church in Carmel, as was the case last Saturday night. Almost everyone not playing found a place to sit, even including the musicians who were constantly cycled in and out as the program unfolded.

As for the program, I think I can safely say it contained all local premieres, with a couple of brass exceptions. The show opened with Suite Liturgique of 1942 by André Jolivet, scored for solo soprano, cor anglais and oboe, cello and harp; at 22 minutes it was the longest work of the concert. Especially in its instrumental movements (Prelude, Musette, Interlude) it captures an antique feel reminiscent of the early French baroque. The two Lori-Schulman1302double reed instruments, played by Peter Lemberg, imparted a pastoral character, yet the cor anglais also sang with melancholy tones. As if in contrast, the lovely soprano voice of Lori Schulman (pictured) rose bright and clear in the Salve regina, Alleluia, Magnificat and Benedictus.

Yet nothing about this work could have prepared the audience for Jolivet’s wild and jazzy Second Trumpet Concerto of 1954. For that, the soloist was Barbara Hull, plus a full chamber orchestra of winds including two saxophones, piano, double bass and a large percussion battery. A wah-wah trumpet solo opened the first of three movements which then led into “an aggressive polytonal dance.” The brief A-B-A slow movement sported a trumpet arioso in the middle section. A simple giocoso tune in the finale was knocked sideways by polytonality and crazy tone-clusters. It almost got lost in the raucous melee, but ended the concert with a bang.

The third of the three soloists was concertmaster David Dally who gave the world premiere of the 11-minute Concertino by Stephen Tosh. The piece, in the form of variations, was composed fifteen years ago. Tosh, in the back of the room, listened with his eyes closed. Dally played it beautifully from the violin’s intimate introduction right through the Broadway pit orchestra sections that piled up toward the end in an extravagant dance. (As Tosh says, he has “suitcases” full of compositions that have never been performed. There’s probably enough material for Ensemble Monterey to include a ‘new’ Tosh piece in every program for at least a couple of seasons.) Like the trumpet concerto, it used the large EM ensemble, including percussion.

After the opening Jolivet piece, Carlton Macy’s eight-minute Prairie Trio “Quietude,” in a regional premiere, called for clarinet, piano and marimba. It was designed to convey the mood of a Mojave Desert sunrise. Unfortunately, the marimba didn’t achieve an ideal balance with the other instruments. The composer was present.

Next came Tres Cantos Berberes by prolific Catalan-born American composer Carlos Surinach (who wrote ballets for Martha Graham, the Joffrey Ballet and Paul Taylor Dancers.) The 10-minute piece is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, viola, cello and harp. The music here, delicious in the ear, didn’t sound particularly Spanish, except for Flamenco flavors in the last movement. Supposedly, it contained Berber elements but the program note made no mention of it.

A brass ensemble from Youth Music Monterey, consisting of trumpet, two horns and bass trombone, coached by Suzanne Mudge, played pieces heard as Tower Music at the Bach Festival, including Renaissance dances by Claude Gervaise and Locus iste by Anton Bruckner. Less familiar was the jazzy Voyage, in four movements, by the hugely prolific American composer Robert Muczynski. (For their Santa Cruz performance on Sunday they included the Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band.)

Those of us who support music education in the schools applaud Ensemble Monterey and the many other regional presenters who actively affiliate with school music programs and the musicians of the next generation.