Arguably, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music is one the very finest anywhere to be found. To add the deserved exclamation point, add the Festival’s newly appointed Music Director Cristian Macelaru, affectionately called “Cristi.” The Maestro has brought yet another amazing dimension to programming — the excellent selection of guest composers and artists, plus, of course, the splendid orchestra he has the pleasure of directing. “Cristi” is charismatic in his approach to the Festival Orchestra and its audience. In the short space of a week he has demonstrated how well prepared he is for the challenge of the scheduled contemporary works and to become the new, highly polished cornerstone of this unique Festival.
On opening night Friday, August 4 at the Santa Cruz Civic to a sold out audience, the Festival began with a World Premiere and Festival Commission — “Points of Departure: Cabrillo (1988, rev. 2017)” by Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956). This work is laid out in four interesting movements Spirale, Strati, Visione and Ritorno. Initially composed for chamber orchestra, the composer augmented the original version to a larger scale, but more importantly up-dated the composition thought process by some 30 years — always a huge challenge to combine looking back and moving forward! It worked!
Gandolfi’s idea was to dovetail compositionally the four movements in which the material at the end of the first section became the beginning of the second section and continued with a departure introducing new thematic development. In many respects “Points” carries delicate features with glissandi and interesting pointillistic winds against sustained strings that fit well in its new, lager version. With each succeeding section the work became denser with expanding string textures that left its original chamber character and took on one of full orchestra color. Maestro Macelaru guided the orchestra to the eventual return of the opening thematic material completing the arch form of the work.
The percussion concerto “AD INFINITUM (2017),” by Brasilian-American composer Clarice Assad (b. 1978), featuring phenomenal percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, lit up the Civic Center with its awesome theatrical setting. This also was a World Premiere and Festival Commission performance. The work is in three parts: I. Womb, Birth, Outside World; II. Infancy, Childhood; III. Adulthood, Finale: Death & Rebirth. “AD INFINITUM“ deals with the concept of life, death and rebirth on a spiritual and material level.”
Directly in front of the orchestra and to the sides of the podium, Glennie had her substantial array of percussion instruments in place. In near silence she entered slowly from the side and immediately alluded to the form of an Afro-Brasilian mythological goddess “Mãe d’Agua” (mother of the waters), or Rhiannon (the Celtic goddess of the Earth and fertility). What followed was a creative percussion display exploring the prowess of what Dame Glennie is all about. The work progressed and developed in sync with the Maestro’s attention to orchestral entrances, dynamic levels and accompaniment of the three percussionists. Bowed metal, chant-like sounds, marimba, at times against a lush string background worked to perfection. Practically every approach to exciting percussion performance in superb orchestral balance was rendered and its setting against a striking red visual background accentuated the overall theatrical experience. To be certain, “AD INFINITUM” was a crowd pleaser!
The final work of monumental proportions was the “Second Symphony (1991)” by Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960) scored in three movements I. Alarm; II. Air/Ground; III. Barricade. Kernis writes he was shaken by the events and relentless brutality of the Persian Gulf War and set out depict in sound the senseless events of this tragedy. He succeeded overwhelmingly!
Timpani, brass and strings erupted in an ominous frenzy of sound before subtle relief entered with a mini tuba solo. Under the keen ear and sharp eye of Cristi, every subtle nuance, critical instrumental entrance and impressive layered texture was meticulously sculptured to perfection. The effective harp and double bass pizzicati (and winds) of the second movement allowed the work to reflect, take shape and offer relief and contrast to the preceding orchestral events. A welcome clarinet solo opened a kaleidoscopic texture that built into a moment of quasi “romantic” relief. The third movement opened against a soft percussive snare drum back drop and continued with more impressive orchestration.
During the wonderful, highly informative open rehearsals, it was readily apparent that Cristi sought to capture each and every orchestral detail, even on the minutest level of the scheduled works. At times he would stop to adjust dynamic levels and articulations to the satisfaction of both composer and orchestra.
The opening concert of this new era under Maestro Cristi Macelaru was IMPRESSIVE!