The Cabrillo Festival opened with its traditional pomp and ceremony. From 6:30-7:45 pm, there was an Alfresco Dinner in front of the Civic followed by the pre-concert talk with Sarah Cahill and Maestro Cristi Mācelaru. Previously written questions were submitted and answered by Mācelaru, and some good ones at that. Perhaps the most pressing was how does Mācelaru select his program? Actually what was missing was “to where or whom does a composer submit a score?” No information was given, except that the Maestro may ask a composer for a work or a work is commissioned. And does a composer receive feedback such as yes, no or maybe at some undetermined point do submitted compositions gravitate into a black hole never to be heard of again? One can assume these questions were directed to Ms. Cahill as well, since she specializes in performing new piano works.
The evening offered four works, and good ones, too! Folk Songs for Orchestra (2012), an ongoing project composed by a most interesting artist Huang Ruo (1976). The four selected folk songs reflected to a serious degree the life, culture and soul of China set in four continuous sections. The folk songs Huang selected were Flower Drum Song from Feng Yang, Love Song from Kang Ding, Girl the Da Ban City, and Boatman Song from the Yellow River, the song that in the minds of many may have just stolen the show! In a departure from the first three songs set more or less in what Westerners might consider Chinese music, in the fourth song Huang Ruo demonstrated his large scale modern compositional skills with strong, interesting string, wind brass and percussion writing. This included sung Chinese words by the performers “ni xiao de” the first three words from the original song translated to “do you know”. Most impressive was the solo sung by the composer who was seated to the rear of the Civic. The Boatman Song from the Yellow River in Shanxi province is sung by boatmen carrying passengers. This was a solemn, dignified, passionate performance exuding personal expression to the fullest! In addition well placed, sensitive percussive elements including gongs, timpani, bass drum combined to render textures from simple to complex — very enjoyable and well performed!
Composer Zosha Di Castri (1985) assembled quite a work in Dear Life (2015) (USA Premiere). To add a bit of drama, Zosha was asked to compose Dear Life just days before giving birth to her first child. Several elements are incorporated into this work.
Words and lyrics were adapted from the complex story by Alice Munro, adaptation by Merlyn Simons; Martha Henry did the recorded narration, and lastly soprano Mary Mackenzie performed the vocal part with excellence. Clear? Yes, but complicated! Soprano Mackenzie was stationed just behind the first violins facing Maestro Mācelaru who magically wove her words through and between the abstractness of the orchestra and the correctness of her spoken and sung part. Mackenzie realized her role bridging softly spoken moments with moments of dramatic hysteria, all well programmed by Di Castri and realized by the orchestra. Moments of impressive balancing and blending of fragmented text, invented sounds both sung and spoken heightened the theatrical aspect. Well-conceived orchestral textures complimented the composer’s musical intentions with color and pause — quite challenging, and very well realized!
Macedonian composer Pande Shahov (1973) and fellow compatriot pianist Simon Trpceski collaborated to realize the USA Premiere and Festival Commission Piano Concerto No. 2 (2018). Shahov’s intention was to incorporate and juxtapose Macedonian songs with the interesting and challenging asymmetrical rhythms intrinsic to the culture. Shahov wove musical tapestries into his orchestration using common rhythmic patterns of Balkan countries 5/8, 7/8 and 9/8. The piano became an intrinsic component of the overall orchestral fabric, rather than a solo figure. Percussion and flute solos were prominent with the piano tiptoeing on top of the orchestral texture at times in a dreamy, carefree style that served to prepare for the following orchestral rhythmic re-entrances. Repetition alluded to minimalism, but because of the patterning came off as kaleidoscopic. The work was indeed well received by the audience. Jokingly, Shahov offered dance lessons following the concert. I have the feeling several may have taken him up on it.
Fellow Romanian composer Dan Dediu (1967) was commissioned in 2003 by the Young Euro Classic Festival in Berlin to compose Grana, Op. 101. This performance was a USA Premiere. The work opened with nervous energy, dance textures, orchestral stops and goes, thick, rich, well written brass moments and excellent clarinet solos. The wind-brass textures were impressive and created an orchestral warmth above the underlying bass pizzicato.
The work was realized in four continuous parts: Finale appassionato, Meccanismi (Cancrizans-Etudes), Double-Viscerale, Double Double: Promenade avec “Finale appassionato” vu d’avion. Dan Dediu comments: “The title hints the color of blood. Grana (Aspanish for deep red) means, at the same time, life, hope and despair.
Tonight’s concert was a cultural extravaganza, well realized by all!