Monterey County Composers’ Forum


By Scott MacClelland

THEY CALLED IT “TANGLE OF RAINBOWS,” a great title for an unwritten poem that paraphrased a movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, now applied to the summer edition of the Monterey County Composers’ Forum at Hidden Valley. It also referred to the quartet of clarinet, violin, cello and piano for which Messiaen composed his mystical masterpiece selected here to inspire six new works by local composers.

This unusual configuration—that in the 1970s likewise inspired the formation of the Tashi Quartet—might not have caught on but for the Messiaen. But caught on it did and brought to light some new pieces that deserve to be heard again—and will be as promised by MCCF founder Steve Ettinger when a CD of the concert will be produced in the immediate future.

Ettinger’s own A Lone Voice took full advantage of the resident ensemble of violinist David Dally, clarinetist Grant Rosen, cellist Margie Dally and pianist Leah Zumberge. In three short movements lasting six minutes, Ettinger, who teaches music at Hartnell College, used unisons and doubling among other idiomatic techniques between the clarinet and strings above the keyboard—omitted in the second movement—and ended with a klezmer-inflected final dance.

The afternoon began with a string of four lovely pieces of a gentle, pastoral character: Julie Roseman and Paula Kaiser’s “Fog” played on flute and guitar by the composers, George Peterson’s Blue Remembered Hills featuring soprano Kayleen Roussin Turner singing a wordless vocalise inspired by a poem from A Shropshire Lad by AE Housman, two movements for the quartet from Reflections Suite by Dale E Victorine and a piano prelude by Rick Yramategui. (Perhaps it was a coincidence that A Shropshire Lad inspired George Butterworth, the ‘father’ of English pastoral music, to compose an orchestral rhapsody by that name in the early 20th century.)

Then a firecracker abruptly pivoted the concert into a new direction with David Canright’s Away for the quartet. Up-tempo, with vivid call and response skittering among the instruments in the first half suddenly devolved into a slow-motion pointillistic minimalism. The two-minute intensity of the piece never flagged. A folksong inspired by the events of September 11, 2001, The Other Side of the Mountain, arranged from the guitar original for the quartet by Carleton Macy, was sung by its composer, Edward Moncrief and his wife Judi.

Douglas Ovens, a relative newcomer, made his second MCCF appearance here conducting a note-for-note arrangement for the quartet of a previously written xylophone piece called Cloudlike Clear. The complex, 9-minute piece opened with an animated flourish and held to its character with sparkle, high energy and focus. Yet his sleight of hand also made room for mood changes. Ovens has already made an indelible mark among his fellow composers.

Clarinetist Rosen and cellist Dally restored some of the pastoral charm heard earlier with Julie Roseman’s brief August Interlude, a conversation with call-and-response imitations. Dana Abbott described his clever G Ground with Blue Swing for clarinet and piano as “lyrical, waltz, strut, swing.” Abbott’s craft found a lofty balance with wit in this concentrated package.

To Carleton Macy all music is about dance. His Motions, for the quartet, consisted of two movements: Flowing and Driving. Close harmonies between the strings and a more independent clarinet strode to a meter of three, with twos thrown in for syncopations, over a walking bass on the piano in the first movement. The exhilarating second, powered by “wild horses,” was visceral, especially to the composer who could be seen rocking bodily to the very energy he had concocted. Here, all the musicians were fully engaged in what was certainly no easy challenge. At one point, the pianist was instructed to manually stop the strings ringing while punching one the keys to get a very percussive effect, like the lute stop on a harpsichord. Driving, yes for sure, but not without change-ups and other surprises.

Another MCCF concert of new music is planned for November.       


Mark Kosower cello recital

By Dana Abbott

THE CAPACITY AUDIENCE at the Hidden Valley concert by cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh discovered from the onset that a special evening would ensue. The program opened with Beethoven’s  Seven Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” Mozart’s short but touching praise of love between a man and his wife from The Magic Flute. An elegant, inventive expansion of Mozart’s simple tune, the early Beethoven 1801 cello piano duet is fresh, masterful and approachable, the gift of the composer’s abundant and fertile imagination. The performance summoned all its allure with glittering polish. 

The Cello Sonata in G Minor by Gabriel Fauré was likewise played in refined partnership, its fast moving harmonies and the lamentation qualities in the second movement well-defined. Fauré had been commissioned to write an elegy commemorating the 100th anniversary in 1921 of the death of Napoleon. In this performance the partnership of Kosower and Oh was displayed in each partner’s sensitivity to the other’s playing and their effortless fit and finish. Oh’s ability to manage varying layers and intricacies of background piano accompaniment and to bring forth rich, yet not overbearing tone when taking the lead, was obvious. According to the program notes, their partnership extends to recording projects. One could see why.

Kosower closed the first half of the concert with his adaptation for solo cello of Bach’s solo violin Partita No. 1 in B Minor. He talked briefly about using this piece to take Bach out of the concert venue into other places within the community, reaching audiences that might not otherwise encounter it. He defined the piece as eight short movements in a repeating pattern, with each of the four core movements, based on dance forms of Bach’s time—Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Bourrée—followed by a “Double” with expanded chord progressions presenting “even greater difficulty.” Kosower’s almost effortless mastery of his instrument was front and center. In total, the piece was not short, but the cellist’s command of the unending yet controlled avalanche of notes and musical figures was stunning. The audience responded with enthusiasm. 

After intermission, Kosower and Oh played Piece for Cello and Piano, Op 39, from 1897, the last published work of Ernest Chausson, a minor French composer, owing in part to his methodical and self-critical mindset. His style is a clear transition from Saint-Saëns, Chabrier and César Franck of late 19th century French music to Fauré, Debussy and Ravel of the early 20th century. Though perhaps the slightest piece on the program, it was evidence of Kosower’s wide-ranging musical interests and a memento of Chausson’s career, cut short by a fatal bicycle accident at age 44.

The dominant piece of the concert’s second half was Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C, Op 65 written in 1961, one of several pieces resulting from Britten’s meeting Mstislav Rostropovich. The sonata is a rich, demanding piece, with a pizzicato second movement, an elegiac slow movement, and two short but hard-driven final movements. One could say that Britten summons a rich panoply of cellist tricks for his performer. Kosower met the challenge, including using his left hand to move a mute into place while sustaining an open-string double-stop with his bow arm in the elegy. The Marcia-energico was just that, brief and modern in musical substance. The finale, a presto in perpetual motion suggested Shostakovich and ended with a rich, complex multi-rhythmic figure which brought a satisfied, triumphant smile from both performers.

The concert closed with a Russian dance, a Gopak from Modest Mussorgsky, set for piano and cello, bright and playful, a refined partnership between partners. Kosower’s program was remarkably generous in polished musicality, a fitting close to Hidden Valley’s summer Masters’ Festival series. Attendees were richly rewarded and rewarded in kind.