Cabrillo Festival “Contrasts”

Anna Clyne, Cristi Măcelaru & Inbal Segev (Photo by rr jones)

By Roger Emanuels

THE CABRILLO FESTIVAL is defined by its programming of West Coast premieres, US premieres and world premieres. Audiences can feel smug in knowing they are among the first to hear these new works.

On August 3, DANCE for cello and orchestra (2019) by London-born Anna Clyne was a much anticipated event. In a program titled “Contrasts,” cellist Inbal Segev gave a gorgeous reading of this colorful new concerto, a Festival co-commission. She played with ease, creating enchanting moods, comfortable with the technical and musical demands of the composer who is also a cellist. The five-movement work was an instant success. Clyne’s main tool for creating a varied pallet of sound was in doubling instruments in the orchestra with the solo line. In the first movement the solo cello lingers peacefully in the extreme high register, with a flute playing the same line, creating a color where the two instruments blend into a new sonority. A striking example of this doubling occurred in the third movement when two marimbas double the cello line. In other sections, a bowed marimba sound matched the natural harmonics of the cello, creating an otherworldly mood.

The five movements of the concerto each reflect a line of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi, a favorite poem of the composer. Suggestions of Eastern European folk-dance gripped the rhythmic second movement. The dramatic fourth movement allowed an Eastern-style melody over traditional harmony to appear through the clouds, a fragment which lingers in this listener’s ear still. The intense tranquil mood of the first movement closes the last movement, again combining flute with solo cello. It was magical. Conductor Cristian Măcelaru maintained careful balance throughout.

Yet another first was the West Coast premiere of Jake Heggie’s The Work at Hand (2015) on a poem by Laura Morefield. The author wrote the poem as her way of preparing for an early death from cancer. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton delivered a moving and emotional performance of this lyrical and gentle music. A solo cello part shares equally in the unfolding of the text, but is much more rhythmically active than the voice. Inbal Segev matched perfectly with Barton as co-soloist. San Francisco composer Heggie provides the performers an excellent orchestral cushion to express the emotional content of the poem.

The Festival Orchestra had moments of its own in two works that were the bookends to the music with soloists. Opening the concert was the West Coast premiere of Kraken (2012) by Du Yun, born in Shanghai, China, and now based in New York City. The title refers to a sea monster, though its relation to the music is unclear from both the program notes and the composer’s comments at the concert. Though her notes claim that the piece is not programmatic, the thick and unrelenting textures might be used as a background to an encounter with Moby Dick. Equally unrelenting was the rhythmic activity. Several extended, or non conventional, techniques were used. A curious new sound in the opening was from the oboe, but the mouthpiece only, creating a distant buzz of pitch.

The orchestra closed the concert with Levante (2018) by Dan Dediu in its US premiere. The title refers to the east, “where the sun rises.” In his introductory comments, the composer related that a player in an orchestra in his home country of Romania remarked that the piece represented to him “Jurassic Park meets Romanian folk dances.” And indeed, after moments of dark and heavy textures the orchestra breaks out in joyful folkdance. It was an entertaining piece and it created an upbeat ending to a fine evening of new music.