Music at All Saints’ continued its new season last night with a concert titled, “Nathanael Pangrazio and Friends.” Composer Pangrazio is a Monterey Peninsula native in his twenties who received his first music instruction at the late age of 13 from Carmel pianist Barbara Ruzicka. In addition to his skills as a pianist, Pangrazio at an early age exhibited talent as a composer and by the time he was eighteen had been awarded commissions for performances at San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey, the Carmel Bach Festival, I Cantori, Camerata Singers and Hidden Valley Music Seminars. Presently living in Los Angeles, his works have been performed nationwide. He has composed for film and television, and is additionally engaged in a wide variety of musical activities.
It is not often that we have an opportunity to have a composer come to us and present in concert his own compositions (and also perform some of them). Actually, it did happen last summer when Philip Glass was heard here in a three-day festival of his own music. At that time, although there were many Philip Glass fans present, there were others who thought that, aside from his film scores, Mr. Glass might be committing compositional suicide by pursuing his obsession with minimalism. And, indeed, it did seem as though he had little to say, but kept saying it over and over again with endless, mind-numbing repetitions.
Thus, it is a pleasure to report that Nathanael Pangrazio does have much to say, and he says it effectively. Although his works are composed in a variety of styles and genres, he turns his back on many 20th-century experiments that ultimately led nowhere, such as atonalism, twelve-tone serialism, musique concrête, aleatoric chance music and various experiments with the Moog synthesizer.
The overwhelming impression we have from hearing Pangrazio’s compositions is that he is not trying to impress or shock us with gimmicks and outrageous experiments. He is simply writing well-crafted music as he feels it, and as he thinks it. One of the reasons his music has such an immediate appeal is its grounding in the romanticism of the late 19th century. Many recent contemporary composers have rather rudimentary keyboard skills, and we suspect that many of them don’t really like the piano at all, since they often mistreat it, bang on it, and even “prepare” it on occasion with foreign objects inserted on the strings and soundboard.
However, every work on Pangrazio’s program, with the exception of the final a capella selections, contained significant writing for the piano. Pangrazio has a love and respect for the piano, and you hear it in every note of his scores. We also heard in his music a love for Sergei Rachmaninoff, for Pangrazio loads his music with rich romantic sonorities and beautiful-sounding piano figuration in accompaniment figures. I mean this as the greatest compliment, for Rachmaninoff’s music was for a hundred years demeaned by critics, one of whom said in the Fifth Edition of Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians (while Rachmaninoff was still alive), “his music finds little favor among musicians and its popularity is unlikely to outlast his lifetime.” Pangrazio’s spiritual affinity with Rachmaninoff is quite appropriate, since the wheel has come full circle and other composers today, like Pangrazio are aiming to write music that has immediate appeal. There was an interesting cumulative effect that became noticeable throughout this concert. Over and over again we became aware that Pangrazio had one very special gift in all his compositions, and this was how skillfully he ended each piece – often prolonging the mood with extended cadences or holding the last chord and listening to its gradual diminution. It was lovely.
The evening’s concert began with a performance of Pangrazio’s Piano Trio in C Minor performed by pianist Ayse Taspinar, violist Boryana Popova and cellist Chris Ahn. This is a work the composer wrote at age 16, and it was marvel of tender, romantic writing for the instruments and was played with a spontaneous grandeur that was well received by the audience.
Next we heard the lovely soprano voice of April Amante as she and Pangrazio performed four French art songs. Although it was so dark in All Saints’ Church that we couldn’t read the text or its translations, it was clearly obvious that Pangrazio has absorbed the styles of Debussy, Ravel, du Parc, Fauré and others, but also added some of his own flavors and contributed something very beautiful to the genre of the art song.
Pangrazio introduced us to violinist Boryana Popova, who had played so well in the Piano Trio and now appeared with Pangrazio at the piano to perform two “Violin Poems.” We heard a lovely tranquility in the first, and some profoundly disturbing agitation in the second. There was a lot of beautiful playing here.
Ending the first half was a performance by cellist Chris Ahn and pianist Pangrazio of the slow movement of Pangrazio’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. Before the performance began, I was wondering whether it would be reminiscent of Rachmaninoff’s slow movement of his Cello Sonata. Well, I was pleasantly surprised how Pengrazio found new ways to write for piano and cello so that each instrument sounded glorious. There were some very effective dissonances and a great climax to this piece.
After intermission we heard three Nocturnes for piano solo. The most wildly dramatic of the three was the first one played by guest pianist Anna Sarkisova. It sounded very difficult, but she played it with such authority, she made it look easy and it had a sense of inevitability about it. The other two Nocturnes were played by Pangrazio, in which he projected some lovely moments of serenity and dreamy ecstasy.
Winding up the program were three a capella choral works featuring singers from “Top Shelf A Capella Group” consisting of Grant Gordin, Lauren Hayes, Ramsey Kouri, Laurel Sanders. They were joined by special guests soprano April Amante and tenor Todd Samra, with Pangrazio conducting the ensemble. The three selections ran the gamut from a lovely “Kyrie” to a fine arrangement of “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.”
There was a good sized and enthusiastic audience of about 150, many of whom had known Pangrazio while he was a Monterey Peninsula resident and contributing so much to our musical community. We have much to be grateful to All Saints’ Church (the best acoustics on the Monterey Peninsula), its Rector Father Rick Matters, and all the people who helped make this new concert series such a resounding success.
To add to the success of this enchanting evening, the Church hosted a reception after the concert during which members of the audience mingled with the musicians.