A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Salastina Music Society Co-Artistic Directors Maia Jasper and Kevin Kumar

Bravo! to the Salastina Music Society for its great 150th-birthday celebration of Claude Debussy’s life and music. Artistic Directors Maia Jasper and Kevin Kumar produced a wonderful program featuring some of LA’s finest musicians. The audience is likely still savoring the sounds of the Nov. 17 concert at the Chapel of Mount Saint Mary’s College in Brentwood.

Salastina’s penchant for playing excerpts and custom chamber arrangements makes them quite unique and gives them interesting latitude in programming. The overall sequence of the program produced a wonderful flow of energy that culminated with a Schoenberg Verein arrangement of Debussy’s seminal Prelude a l’apres midi d’une faune (Prelude to the afternoon of a faun). Jasper and Kumar described Debussy’s personal and musical connections to each of the composers on the program, his dearest friends and associates: Erik Satie, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky.

Composer-in-Residence Jeremy Cavaterra penned an arrangement for string quintet (with double bass) and winds of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 as the opening work. Oboist Ariana Ghez (principal, Los Angeles Philharmonic) was warm and engaging in her portrayal of Satie’s theme; she gave a seductive personality to the familiar melody. Violinists Kumar and Jasper blended beautifully with violist Meredith Crawford (assistant principal, Pacific Symphony), and bassist Geoffrey Osika (principal, Long Beach Symphony) added a gentle touch that resonated in the space.

Soprano Elissa Johnston was absolutely fabulous singing La Bonne Chanson (The Good Song) by Fauré. Johnston has a beautiful voice that matched perfectly with the music. I was impressed by her performance in a concert this past summer singing Ravel’s Chansons Madécasses at the Huntington Summer Festival by Southwest Chamber Music (read my review). She is a captivating singer, her allure irresistible. Jasper’s translation was helpful in interpreting the affective palette of the text. The ensemble effects were nice; the core musicians have become very comfortable together and transmit a cohesive artistic interpretation and synchrony in their timing.

In characteristic Salastina style, Stravinsky’s Petit Concert (Little Concert) from A Soldier’s Tale was an interesting cog in the program, lively and energetic, a catapult for the mood. Jasper and clarinetist Chris Stoutenborough (Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra) were dynamic in their lively exchanges, and pianist Scott Dunn (associate conductor, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) preserved the theatricality of L’Histoire and further ratcheted up the energy level of the night. Jasper was determined and resolute, while Stoutenborough was an impetuous force.

Kumar and cellist Yves Dharamraj paired up to punch out the allegro and tres vif movements of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. Dharamraj was intensely energetic. Kumar was totally in the moment, his extra-musical energy fun to watch.

A Schoenberg Verein arrangement of Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune (Prelude to the afternoon of a faun) ended the program with Debussy, the Master himself and honoree of the party. The arrangement had Dunn covering the harp, along with other missing orchestral parts, and Johnston chiming percussion effects. Flutist Benjamin Smolen (principal, Pacific Angeles Philharmonic) was delightfully beckoning with Debussy’s eidetic flute melody, and the ensemble skillfully managed Debussy’s motile chromaticism. The music itself was luscious, not at all dry, and certainly helped by the excessively live acoustics of the chapel. The effect was a warm flowing sensation around Debussy’s floating tritonal centers.

In the midst of its third season, the Salastina Music Society, a project of the Emerge Fiscal Sponsorship Program from the Pasadena Arts Council, has become a very significant and distinctive contribution to the chamber music scene in Los Angeles. The scholarly programming with its quality of intellect and approachability, coupled with the area’s finest musicians, is a winning combination. Bravo again!

~Theodore Bell/Culture Spot LA

For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.salastinasociety.org/concerts.