Music Review: Southwest Chamber Music at the Huntington

August 4, 2010 | By Theodore Bell | Category: Classical Music and Opera

Southwest Chamber Music continued its reputation for great programming on July 23, as Artistic Director Jeff von der Schmidt connected the dots for us between Mexico and Vienna with works by Silvestre Revueltas, Gabriela Ortiz, and Beethoven.

The setting was an idyllic Los Angeles summer’s eve at the Huntington.  As I strolled in the gardens, dusk gradually revealed the LA cityscape brightening in the distance.  And then while sitting on the grand stone porch that is the art gallery loggia, I had a perfect view of a full moon. Low on the horizon and framed by the tall stone columns of the portico, it dimly bathed the great lawn in shades of gray behind the stage.  Such was the backdrop for a most memorable concert.

Revueltas’ String Quartet No. 4, Música de feria (1932), was rhythmically hot with melodies distinctively Mexican. The compositional style is familiar and easily approachable and tuneful.  In the fiery opening, violinists Lorenz Gamma and Shalini Vijayan produced delicate harmonic timbres that blended and floated beautifully together over violist Jan Karlin’s and cellist Peter Jacobson’s flickering pizzicato. The seminal attributes of Revueltas’ sound were easy to appreciate.  Gamma led an extended crescendo and accelerando to frenzy, and the precise and effective timing of the ensemble ending created a stunning effect.

It was a pleasure to hear the contemporary Aroma Foliado for String Quartet by internationally acclaimed composer Ortiz, whose Mexican origins fuel a seamless blend of firsthand folk, classic, jazz and avant-garde influences that have created her distinctive style and appeal.  Jacobson’s cello was solid, and he met the demands of the composer with gusto.  He totally grounded the ensemble, and his melodic lines were alluring.  His enthusiasm is a treat.

The genius of Beethoven cannot be subdued, and the players let it ride. The quartet delivered in grand style the fresh drama that Beethoven packed into String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, the last and least-Russian of the “Rasumofsky quartets.”  Gamma was brilliant, and led the quartet at times with a frenetic, yet graceful dynamic.  The Beethoven performance was the high point of the evening; the ensemble was superb.

Southwest Chamber Music continues its summer series with four concerts in August. You can choose to sit on the loggia with the musicians, or bring a blanket or folding chair and enjoy the sound from the expansive lawn.

The crowd on the lawn is growing with every season, and as Board member Carl Selkin said to me, “The lawn is nice, and the sound radiates from the porch surprisingly well.  You can have a sausage and wine while listening to great music.”   Now, that is approachable chamber music.

Jeff von der Schmidt and I spoke at intermission, and as we reminisced about the fantastic Ascending Dragon Festival concerts, he hinted of even greater things in seasons to come!  I can’t wait to hear what they have planned.

The concert this weekend, Aug. 7 and 8, will be fabulous, as harpist Alison Bjorkedal joins the quartet in Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane and Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro.  Le Fils des étoiles by Eric Satie (with flutist Larry Kaplan) and Solar Music by Anne Le Baron (with clarinetist Jim Foscia) are also on the program.  The Debussy String Quartet is featured after intermission – need I say more?

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