Last night at St. Philips Lutheran Church in Carmel Valley conductor John Anderson demonstrated once again how he can assemble a group of the finest orchestra players on the Monterey Peninsula and create a program that was as strong in innovation as it was in charm and individual virtuosity. Although I attend a lot of concerts, on this occasion I was hearing three works of novelty and substance I had never heard before.
In the opening work, Overture on Hebrew Themes, a sextet Prokofiev composed in 1919 while living in exile in New York City, we were charmed by the jazzy Klezmer style performance of clarinetist Erica Horn. She was on the top of her form with beguiling playing that was authoritative and commanded our attention throughout. Pianist Lucy Faridany contributed a lovely flavor to the ensemble with her solid and precise rhythmic playing that added so much to the ensemble. The quartet players, violinists Dave Dally and Shannon Delaney, cellist Margie Dally and violist John Wineglass, were superb — each one having important parts on their own.
Next on the program we heard the amusing tale of Wally the Beard, a dark television score originally written by Bernard Herrmann for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. We were hearing a transcription for chamber orchestra by Peter Lemberg and narrated by Ken Cusson. When Mr. Cusson, who vaguely resembles Alfred Hitchcock, walked up to the microphone and said, “Good Evening,” the illusion was almost perfect. The story of Wally the Beard is a complicated, dark twisted tale (quite appropriate for the Halloween season) that involves a person assuming multiple identities, a landlady whose husband has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, a burglary, a colorful character named “Curly,” a murder and an arrest by the police of the wrong person. During Mr. Cusson’s narration the Orchestra constantly interrupted with flashes of musical whimsey — including one brief quote of Funeral March of a Marionette (the musical logo for the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”) and two appearances of the “Sailor’s Hornpipe” theme — one of which was whimsical and one of which was more sinister. This performance was fun and the audience loved it.
Ending the program was another musical novelty called Nonet in F Major, a work by Franz Lachner arranged by Ferdé Grofé. Although I know what an octet is, a “nonet,” meaning a work for nine instruments, is definitely off my radar. It was as though John Anderson was looking for a piece of music that would showcase nine of his most brilliant and virtuosic musical colleagues. Well, it worked, and it worked fabulously. Violinists Dave Dally and John Wineglass, cellist Margie Dally, bass Kelly Beecher, hornist John Orzel, flutist Lars Johannesson, clarinetist Erica Horn, bassoonist Gail Selburn and oboist Peter Lemberg made up the “nonet,” and, of course conductor John Anderson led the ensemble.
I was absolutely blown away by the artistic and masterful playing of these fine musicians. Of course the ensemble playing was on the highest level, but it was the individual playing, and each one of them had glorious solo moments, that impressed me the most.
We will be looking forward to Ensemble Monterey’s next series of concerts on January 20 and 21.