Cabrillo Festival – Music Tributes Part 1

Conductor Cristian Macelaru

After a most successful opening concert, the Cabrillo Festival continued with its second exciting concert at the Civic on Saturday, August 5. The concert began with Three Latin American Dances (2003) by Gabriela Lena Frank (1972); Violin Concerto Tributes (2009) by James Stephenson (1969) featuring highly distinguished violinist Jennifer Frautschi (West Coast Premiere); The Conjured Life (2017) by David T. Little (1978) and Double Play (2010) by Cindy McTee (1953).

Three Latin Dances was scored in three rather distinct movements: Introduction: Jungle Jaunt, Highland Harawi and The Mestizo Waltz. Jungle Jaunt captured moments from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story before venturing into rhythms of various pan American dances. An interesting counter point between viola and cello captured attention before Maestro Cristi cued in the full orchestra.

Claves, timpani and assorted percussion instruments opened the second movement Highland Harawi that served as the center piece of the work. The music depicted the vast mysteries of the Andean and Peruvian-Inca spirit against a staggered rhythmic affect on a string textured canvas of wind sound, harp glissandi and built a slow crescendo that alluded to a sense of suspended time. Well disguised hints of Béla Bartók and were also alluded to in this interesting section .

A brass quasi Mariachi/Spanish bullfight episode complete with brass, congas and woodblock created a fascinating Latin dance affect. Prior to the concert Maestro Cristi in good nature commented “If you have the urge to dance, that’s fine, but please don’t”.

The Violin Concerto, Tributes with virtuoso violinist Jennifer Frautschi was an amazing, artistic tour de force! Ms. Frautschi performs on a magnificent 1722 Antonio Stradivarius violin known as the “ex-Cadiz” that under her fingers produced a marvelous, rich, full sound that filled the Civic.

All considered, Tributes contains three movements Allegretto deciso, Andante, Allegro agitato that developed into a musical composition of the highest creative order. After a musically tasteful opening, the work wasted no time in allowing Frautschi to demonstrate her commanding and artistic virtuosity. She produced throughout a most satisfying full-bodied robust sound, while also being able to conjure up in contrast moments of intimacy when called upon to do so. This work contained bursts of brass, against a steady, persistent pizzicato in the strings and brief jazz flavoring. Stephenson pointed out the influence of jazz great Louis Armstrong who “every day would ‘compose’ improvised solos of incomparable form and structure.”

The second movement is a perfectly sculpted section with bassoon, cellos and basses setting a pulse with brass that wove through the texture. Cristi took full advantage of the lyrical elements in this movement and balanced the dynamics to allow Frautschi’s beautiful tone to coordinate the more dissonant moments with refreshing and passionate moments of exceptional finesse. Cristi created a flawless sense of the music’s ebb, flow and surge that allowed Frautschi’s cascades of notes to glisten with elegance, especially in the cadenza. Tributes is a work well worth hearing again!

The Conjured Life by David T. Little had it’s philosophical and compositional roots in the musical influence of Aptos Icon Lou Harrison, former friend and neighbor of mine. The Gamelon influence served as the central nervous system of the work — at times more prominent and at times subdued, but it’s presence was felt. The Double Bass and tuba had a drone effect against which percussion activity took place. The second movement with the ponderous persistence of the bass drum beat coupled with the brass and strings gave the allusion of slowly winding and wrapping around itself as if in the grasp of a boa constrictor. Welcomed relief came with silence and the sounding of suspended chimes, in true Harrison fashion.

A well orchestrated opening began Double Play. Flute, clarinet solos and first violin against cello and double bass, percussive effects that augmented and accelerated into a lush string texture were impressive. In the first of two continuous movements, The Unanswered Question followed by Tempus Fugit, there was much sensitive give and take between orchestral families that provided intimacy and subtle variation in color. Maestro Cristi guided the shifts in rhythmic patterns with the kind of supple freedom even the most refined orchestral conductor could hardly match.

The Sturm und Drang virtuosity and rapidity in the chord changes between the string and brass sections towards the end of the second movement, to categorize it in genre terms, must be the envy of every big band jazz director living or otherwise. Amazing!


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