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 commission 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.