Monterey County Composers Forum

By Scott MacClelland

I HAVE BEEN REMISS in not attending the Monterey County Composers Forum concerts over the many years since Steve Ettinger founded the group. They have preferred the Hidden Valley theater as their venue and on Sunday afternoon attracted a near sold out house of fans, including newcomers like me.

Ettinger, who now teaches music at Hartnell College, hosted “August Melody” that included music by nine MCCF members, though others were in attendance to support their colleagues. Their music ranged from folk-like song to more ambitious fare. Performers ranged from flute and guitar to clarinet quartet to an ensemble of electronica, marimbas and piano. Many of the pieces included voices. One piece, Julie Roseman’s Bowling with Friends, recruited audience members to participate in its improvisation.

Playing alto flute, Julie Roseman and guitarist Paula Kaiser opened the program with vocalist Mary Lesher in Roseman’s “A Better Life.” Roseman and Kaiser then offered their mutually composed August Samba. Next came Ed Moncrief who sang his own setting of an original poem titled Straw and Ember, accompanying himself on guitar. The style and phrase lengths reminded me of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

The first large piece, Suspended in Light, was composer George Peterson’s reflection on Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, the sequel to his Cosmos, inspired by the photo of earth made by Voyager I from the edge of the Solar System, a distance of some six billion kilometers. The 7-minute piece began with low growl of electronica, joined by the composer at the piano, two marimbas (Kristen Thompson and Greg Bullock) and soprano Jody Lee who sang a wordless vocalise that at first was inaudible but later held its own as she ramped up her volume. This was the one piece on the program that instrumentally availed Philip Glass-style minimalism and ostinatos. Of similar length, Dale E Victorine’s three-movement Sonata for Flute and Guitar, Op 88, returned Roseman and Kaiser to close out the first half.        

Roseman’s Bowling with Friends launched the second half, with an assortment of ringing meditation bowls of different sizes, various small bells, finger cymbals, a rainstick and African mbiras (thumb pianos). Roseman provided a melodic component with her flute. The beguiling piece seemed shorter than its 9 minutes and between composers and volunteers tallied 11 participants.

Carleton Macy’s August Melody teamed guitarist Anthony DeMers with the composer playing a tenor recorder. This finely made and performed work was a conversation of substance and beauty. In its final moments the two instruments doubled one another. Steve Ettinger’s short folk-like song, To You the Stars of Morning Sing, was sung by soprano Margaret Bruner, first in Hebrew then in English, with Rick Yramategui at the piano. Yramategui’s own Look at the Birds of the Air, with verses from Matthew 6, not only contained memorable writing for both voice and piano, but with operatic soprano Leberta Lorál brought the audience to its feet. 

Closing out the short concert was Karl Schmidt’s Divertimento No 3 for four clarinets, a classically modeled piece in three movements, with Schmidt joined by Anna Guerra, Neil Dickinson and, on bass clarinet, John Dukes. The composer’s note said the first movement “includes two contrasting themes” and the second “is based on a folk melody.” Actually that tune was purloined literally from the chaconne of Gustav Holst’s Suite in E-flat for concert band, folk-like but a Holst original. The third movement was “an impish” waltz.

John Anderson of Ensemble Monterey was the recording engineer who suddenly lost power after the first movement of the Schmidt, necessitating a retake of the piece after the audience was shooed out of the room.