John Anderson, Ēriks Ešenvalds, & Cheryl Anderson
Last night at Cypress Community Church on Highway 68, we heard a concert that was as impressive as it was satisfying. There were moments when there appeared to be “a cast of thousands” (as Hollywood impresarios used to boast) for the musicians included Ensemble Monterey’s Chamber Orchestra in combination with Cantiamo Cabrillo and the Cabrillo Youth Chorus — in between the works on the program it often took five minutes just to get people on and off. The significance of the evening’s concert, the World Premiere of Ēriks Ešenvalds new work, “Sunset in My Hand,” commissioned by Ensemble Monterey, was heightened by the presence of the composer himself, whose warm and congenial personality was observed at intermission as he strolled around the lobby enjoying conversation with anyone who approached him.
Kudos to Ensemble Monterey’s Artistic Director John Anderson and Cantiamo’s Director Cheryl Anderson for smoothly preparing and managing what could have been a logistical nightmare. With the exception of a handheld microphone that refused to function, everything ran smoothly — sort of like the “well oiled machine” that has cropped up in the press recently.
We heard two works by Ēriks Ešenvalds — “The Long Road,” an intense and moving setting of a love poem by Paulina Barca, and the evening’s world premiere of “Sunset in My Hand.” This was my first acquaintance with composer Ešenvalds, and let’s just say that he made a lot more than just a favorable impression. Some contemporary works seem obsessed with being new and innovative and often are not successful in bringing out the best in the performers needed to bring a new score to life. Ešenvalds two works impressed me with how well he adapts inspirational material, such as the poignant poetry accompanying each section, and how well he utilizes the voices and instruments to bring out the best in them. I found his music totally absorbing and capable of drawing me into the music and holding my attention throughout. I especially appreciated that Ešenvalds is absorbed with communicating with us, without resorting to gimmicks — for example, the first sound heard by an audience in one avant garde work in the past century was the sound of a Coke bottle being shattered by a hammer blow with the residual sounds of the glass shards falling and resonating in a tin wastepaper basket.
“In Sunset in My Hand” Ešenvalds employs the youth chorus to sing the narration of poetry while the Cantiamo chorus provided a textured musical background. There were some very effective drone effects from the chorus, heightened by a highly effective use of the chamber orchestra, even including an occasional rumble of thunder effect by carefully stroking a bass drum.
This concert also presented a moving tribute to the late Stephen Tosh, whose piano concerto was performed by pianist Leah Zumberge. Ms. Zumberge is a magnificent pianist who navigated her way through the many style genres of Tosh’s concerto with ease and much charm. Although it is quite acceptable for pianists performing contemporary works to perform from the printed score, Ms. Zumberge went the second mile and performed the three-movement score from memory, quite an accomplishment in itself. I hope we will be hearing more from Ms. Zumberge.
We observed a happy audience departing at the end of this concert, for it was a very moving and stimulating concert. We have much to be thankful for the excellent programs John and Cheryl Anderson have been presenting in our community for the past 25 years.