Saturday, August 18, 2012

musica de cámara – with no camera*

San Miguel has slaked my cultural thirst.  On that, I can always count.

Of course, it may be more accurate to write that San Miguel has reawakened a part of my soul that tends to lie dormant on the beaches of Melaque.

The journey began on Thursday evening. 

San Miguel’s International Chamber Music Festival has been underway since 3 August.  Three groups have already performed -- The Pacifica Quartet (widely proclaimed as the star group of the festival), The Cassatt Quartet, and the Onix Ensemble. 

The fourth group -- The Atlanta Chamber Players -- has three scheduled performances.  The one I saw on Thursday evening.  And two more on Friday and Sunday.

The festival is far more than performances by professional musicians.  But I will write about that in a later post.

Let me tell you about Thursday night’s performance.

The Atlanta Chamber Players is the largest ensemble to play at the festival.  Seven members playing strings, winds, and piano.  The number of players on stage in any given number is determined by the music.

First, let me say, unequivocally, I had a very nice time on Thursday.  Live music presented in intimate theaters without electronic manipulation is my favorite form of concert.  And the small Teatro Angela Peralta is a perfect fit for chamber music.

On Thursday evening the Atlanta Chamber Players presented three pieces:
  • Beethoven’s Serenade in D major Op. 25
  • John Harbison’s Songs America Loves to Sing
  • Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor Op.15 
The combination was a pleasant mix.  The Beethoven is from his earlier formalistic, classical period.  The Harbison is quintessentially American in the style of Charles Ives.  The Fauré is steeped in late French romanticism.

And the players were very good on Thursday.  Technically, they know their stuff.

The Fauré is a vrtuoso piece and quite difficult to perform.  The players nailed it mechanically.  But they did not seem to quite capture the spirit of romanticism. 

It may be because I find Fauré to be discount Debussy.  He has the form without the underlying emotional connections.  At least, in his earlier work. 

Ironically, the players' style was best displayed in the more restricted classicism of the Beethoven piece and in the far looser Harbison piece.

The Harbison was a perfect match for this ensemble.  That makes sense.  The Atlanta Chamber Players commissioned the piece.

Harbison designed his composition around the conceit of a family sitting around a piano and singing their favorite tunes.  It works simultaneously as concept and in execution.

But it is not a Pops concert of America’s favorite tunes.  Harbison has deconstructed each of the tunes, architecturally reformed them, and played them back to us through the filters of atonality, jazz, gospel, and blues.

The danger with these “can you hear that tune” compositions is that the gimmick often clouds what the composer is attempting to communicate.  Harbison’s architectural skills easily solve that dilemma.  His form is his function.

And that makes the piece an intellectual treat.  Both for the mind and the soul.  Even though his form is function, he weaves in enough humor and joy that each of his movements is a fascinating challenge.

So, there it is.  My first night back in the cultural saddle, and there are smiles all around.

I am ready for another serving on Friday evening.

* – I wanted to post a photograph of the ensemble in performance.  But, as you can see from the photograph, no photography was allowed in the theater.  I suspect the sign may be a result of an angry patron who gave the official photographer the bum’s rush out of the theater last year while taking publicity shots during a performance.


John Calypso said...

Of course flash photos could disturb the players - and the there is the old Las Vegas rub - someone does not want to be 'seen' with another's wife or not their own ;-0

Mommy with Commuter Husband said...

Well that is an angle I would not have considered ...

John Calypso said...

A policy for years in Casinos - no photos to avoid any embarrassments.

Steve Cotton said...

Last night someone in the balcony was not doing a very good job of complying with the no camera rule.  And she had not yet figured out how to turn off the fake shutter click on her camera.  It was a bit distracting.

Steve Cotton said...

John always knows the angles.