Camerata’s “To Pauline With Love”

TrioaBy Monica Mendoza

IN A WORLD where the piano accompanist is underappreciated, the Camerata Singers dedicated their Mother’s Day weekend concert to theirs, Pauline Troia. After performing with them for roughly 30 years, Ms Troia is retiring from a long and fruitful career. She herself selected most of the pieces on the program, and each showed her technical skill, expressive phrasing and sensitivity to the singers.

Heard Friday night in Salinas, the program consisted of short works that despite their brief duration held much meaning. Especially meaningful in the context was Companioned, with text by Lucy Maud Montgomery and music written by the young Daniel Brinsmead. Maestro John Koza explained how much this piece in particular meant to Ms Troia. The poem is about how the narrator is never truly alone due to the presence of nature all around her. While reading along during the performance of this piece I found myself listening through the perspective of an accompanist and the musicians they are supporting. Like the companionship of nature spoken of in the poem, the support and strength of the accompanist is sometimes overlooked but also constant. Between the accompanist and the choir there must be a relationship consisting of complete trust, and even though it is not what Montgomery was thinking of when she wrote her poem, Companioned seems to narrate the life of an accompanist. Aside from the depth of the words, the musical writing was also a treat to the ear, with much rhythmic variety and a rich polyphonic texture. Brinsmead is just a few months shy of his 30th birthday, but he writes with maturity far beyond his years.

Continuing the poetry theme, Randall Thompson’s The Road Not Taken draws its text directly from the poem by Robert Frost. The wandering melodic lines evoked the feeling of uncertainty, as the words described the choice that had to be made between two forest paths. When the narrator finally decided which path to take, there was a feeling of arrival, as the uncertain melody was replaced by a bright, optimistic one played on the piano. Another Randall Thompson piece was his setting of Psalm 23: “The Lord is My Shepherd.” The piano part was demanding, requiring skill, musicality, and stamina, all three of which Ms Troia displayed. Credit as well should go to the soprano section of the Camerata singers, who hit some impressively high notes unfazed.

Soprano Leberta Lorál joined the chorus for the second time this year, lending her powerful voice to R’tzei by Stephen Richards and City Called Heaven by Josephine Poelinitz. R’tzei takes its text from the Shemoneh Esrei (Eighteen Blessings), which is a central prayer of the Jewish liturgy. The words are an appeal to God for mercy. Though sung in Hebrew, quite far removed from languages most singers are familiar with, the choir didn’t stumble and sang each word with grace as if it was their first language. Ms Loral displayed great virtuosity in City Called Heaven. Her voice leapt through high passages with ease, sometimes loud enough to fill the church, but also sometimes so quiet that you found yourself on the edge of your seat in anticipation. It was a technically impressive but also emotionally intense performance that brought many audience members to their feet when it was finished.

After all the solemn pieces Ching-A-Ring Chaw came as a surprise. Fast paced and sung with great energy and conviction, it was adapted by Aaron Copland and Irving Fine and showed a whole other side of the choir. The refrain consisted of nonsense syllables, which were enunciated precisely and with gusto.

Whether in a fast or slow piece, the performer must have energy to be able to engage the listener. Happily, the Camerata singers seldom disappoint in this regard. The concert concluded with a rendition of the African American spiritual Music Down in My Soul. It was a great channel for the talents of the choir, conductor and accompanist, and a fine ending for the concert.

Though it lasted only about an hour and fifteen minutes, the repertoire choices were thoughtfully chosen and made a big impact, as evidenced by the enthusiastic reception each piece received from the large audience. According to the program, the Camerata Singers return on Friday, December 14th at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for their Christmas concert. Though next season will bring some changes, namely welcoming a new accompanist, it’s a season to be excited for.


YMMC’s “Mother’s Musical Souvenir”

By Scott MacClelland

MANY A MONTEREY BAY music presenter serves up a program handout and a concert performance. Youth Music Monterey County puts on a pageant. Hard as it may be to imagine today, concerts like that were the norm in Beethoven’s time: highly varied and often more sensational.

YMM’s “Mother’s Musical Souvenir” at Sunset Center, filled the hall for YMM’s Junior Youth and Honors Orchestras, including chamber ensembles, guest artists, concerto competition winners and ceremonial honors. An extravagant celebration ensued that astonished the parents of the young musicians of the Junior Youth Orchestra and 21 members of the even less experienced Orchestra in the Schools during the first half. By the end of the Honors Orchestra portion, the entire audience was equally astonished. Don’t misunderstand me, but for all the music on display, there was an element of showbiz as well.

Some of the good credit for that goes to YMM’s talented and stylish music director Farkhad Khudyev, a native of Turkmenistan, born into a musical family. His brothers, violinist Eldar and clarinetist Emil, are both highly accomplished musicians. (Emil was a featured soloist with the Monterey Symphony when Farkhad was its guest conductor in early 2016.) The family’s charm offensive is also well known; they never forget a friendly response. Farkhad took third prize at the 2017 Georg Solti International Conducting Competition and was among the final 12 at the Nikolai Malko Competition in Copenhagen last month.

YMM’s brass ensemble of two trumpets, trombone and euphonium opened the show with two pieces: a canzon by early 17th century composer Costanzo Antegnati and—now with cool shades in place to everyone’s amusement—Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf. Then 21 members of the Orchestra in the Schools joined the Junior Youth Orchestra for an energetic Barber of Seville Overture. The JYO’s concertmaster, Courtney McDonald, an eighth-grader at Monterey’s San Carlos School, stepped up as soloist for the final movement of a Vivaldi concerto, an opportunity she won through in-house competition. Tall for her age and slim in a full-length red gown, she made quite an impression on both eye and ear.

More chamber music as six members of YMM’s wind ensemble performed an arrangement of the final movement of Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, followed by the orchestra playing Grand Valse Brillante by Chopin, two charming bits of Leroy Anderson, the second punctuated with some vocalizing by the musicians, and a tango by one Robert B Brown.

This entire first half required numerous stage rearrangements, as it would for the second half, all done with tidy efficiency by a team of volunteers. (Peter Thorp, of the Carmel Music Society, happily took a bow as he came on stage to remove a microphone stand.)

Hernandez 1_editedThe Honors Orchestra also opened its program on a small scale. Talented guest flutist Olive de Luca, a Carmel High student, joined three members of YMM’s string chamber players for the theme and variations finale of a flute quartet by Mozart.

Then the orchestra, now beefed up with a large wind and brass contingent and plenty of strings, carried the rest of the day, starting with Carl Maria von Weber’s virtuosic Concertino in E-flat for clarinet, featuring another competition winner, Daniel Hernandez (pictured above), a student at Everett Alvarez High School in North Salinas. Khudyev’s orchestra sounded meaty and bold as it, like Hernandez, traversed its own formidable challenges. This is a single-movement work, composed over three days in 1811, in theme with variations form and a ten-minute performance time. It changes moods putting extra pressure on the soloist and Hernandez commanded it, all from memory. One very intimate solo passage was accompanied softly by violas only. The young artist aroused a tumultuous audience response.

With no letdown, the orchestra then gave a knockout reading of Samuel Barber’s brilliant School for Scandal Overture, his graduation thesis from the Curtis Institute. Oboist Cayden Bloomer, a Pacific Grove Middle School student, played the haunting solo of the middle section beautifully, though his reed betrayed him in a later iteration. (Treacherous instrument, the oboe.)

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, YMMC is now marking milestones. The Honors Orchestra and Khudyev gave the US premiere five years ago of Georgy Sviridov’s melancholy “Romance” from Snowstorm, a film inspired by the Pushkin novel. Reprised on this program, the piece began quietly, with piano (played here by orchestra flutist Jasmine Mitchell, a Monterey High student), violin solo by concertmaster Megan Tang, of York School, then cello, Isadora Flores of Monterey High, and the winds. Slowly more sections were added until the full orchestra was engaged.

The concert ended with a powerful, passionate reading of the polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin, another Pushkin-inspired masterpiece. A cheering ovation punctuated the day.

YMMC has become as international in its student membership as Monterey’s famous Defense Language School and Middlebury School of International Studies. Names from all over Asia, Europe and the Americas are listed in their program booklets. On this occasion, Monterey native Mariam Adam, was honored, in absentia, as Alumna of the Year, a member of YMM’s first concerts in 1989. Adam has gone onto an international career as a virtuoso clarinet performing and recording artist. (She now lives in Paris and will be the subject of an upcoming Performing Arts People profile on Performing Arts Monterey Bay’s website.) To underscore the impact on the lives of YMMC students, recent graduates who have won full university scholarships include flutist Monica Mendoza—University of the Pacific, Stockton—and cellist Kim Kistler—University of British Columbia, Vancouver.