Last night at St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Carmel, Ensemble Monterey Chamber Orchestra (EMCO) presented a richly rewarding concert that embraced four American Composers — the ever versatile and remarkable Stephen Tosh, Antonín Dvořák, Lou Harrison and Charles Ives. That Ensemble Monterey was able to bring together the variety of musicians needed for this ambitious program should come as no surprise to those familiar with the work of founding conductor John Anderson. He has shown remarkable skills in finding the best and most distinguished local musicians available and inspiring them to making music on a very high and professional level. All this is accomplished on a tight budget, a fact that Dr. Anderson and EMCO’s Board President, Art Shuller, gratefully recognized by warmly acknowledging the fine service provided by EMCO volunteers.
The concert began with a performance of Stephan Tosh’s Piano Quintet with the composer at the keyboard and a quartet consisting of violinists David Dally (who also served as Concert Master for just about every piece we heard on the evening’s program), Shannon Delaney, violist Susan C. Brown, and cellist Kris Yemmey (sitting in for Margie Dalley, who was indisposed). Composer Stephen Tosh is one of the most versatile musicians I have ever known. He can compose, conduct, arrange, and simulate an orchestra for musical theater on a digital keyboard. Above all else he is a wizard at the piano – classical, jazz, pop, you name it, and he can do it all in spades.
It was a pleasure to hear his Piano Quintet last night, for this is an idiomatic, user-friendly work that makes an immediate appeal. The scoring for piano and string quartet had a strong element of concertante about it, for often the piano sparred in dramatic dialog with the strings. The lovely Largo movement had some beautiful moments with the piano playing low octaves against an anguished choir of strings. After the playful Scherzo, the final movement Rondo á la Russe showed a respectful homage to Stravinsky, and there was more than one passage where I could just imagine dancers frenetically traipsing around a stage. This performance received warm accolades from the audience, and, if I may say so, Mr. Tosh looked pleased with the performance, as well he should have.
Next we heard two movements from Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, No. 12, performed by four teenage musicians from the “Chamber Players of Youth Music Monterey County.” These young players (violinists Jonathan Vu & Steve Yoo, violist Kim Kissler and cellist Ari Freedman) are already young “professionals” and play with a mastery way beyond their chronological age. The future of young musicians in our society today is as problematic as ever, when compared to more lucrative career paths, so we doubly applaud the remarkable accomplishments of these fine young musicians. At least two of them can be heard next month on April 12 at Hartnell College in a concert by string students of Rochelle Walton, the “Grand Dame” of violin teachers on the Monterey Peninsula.
After intermission the program continued with a performance of Lou Harrison’s “Seven Pastorales.” A special aspect of this performance was noted by Dr. Anderson in a brief introduction that revealed to us that Harrison had been present for a 1998 performance by Anderson at which time Harrison had recorded comments about the Seven Pastorales. Anderson played for us the recorded comments preceding each of the seven brief pieces. To hear Harrison’s voice, warm and humorous, added immensely to the impact of the performance.
Winding up the program, Anderson led the orchestra in a performance of Charles Ives Symphony No. 3, a work written in 1901, but first heard in concert forty-two years after he had written it (in a performance conducted by Lou Harrison). This work, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948, was inspired by camp meetings in Danbury, Connecticut, at a time when the population of the United States was less than 80 million, and contains references to some hymn tunes unfamiliar to me (although I believe I did recognize “What a Friend We have in Jesus”) amidst the polyrhythms and polytonalities which are so familiar in the music of Ives. Less experimental than some of Ives’ scores, Lawrence Gilman once wrote about an Ives composition that applies equally to this one: “This music is as indisputably American in impulse and spiritual texture as the prose of Jonathan Edwards.”
The musicians gave it a rousing and moving performance that made us regret not hearing more music by Charles Ives. Perhaps the indomitable Mr. Tosh should take a crack at “The Concord Sonata.” I hope someday he will.