Cabrillo Festival: Notes from a Journey

The Cabrillo Festival concert on Saturday, August 11, Notes from a Journey, was dedicated to the many incredible Host Families who are an intrinsic part of the Festival. They open their homes to these orchestra’s fantastic musicians. Thank you!

Liguria, (2012) by Andrea Tarrodi (b.1981) (US Premiere) opened the evening’s program. Two works in this concert followed the idea Modest Mussorgsky used in his Pictures at an Exhibition where a tour of art works served as musical illustrations. In this case five small Italian fishing villages were the models. As with Mussorgsky’s Promenade through the art works, Tarrodi used the pathway connecting the villages as a musical walking tour. Maestro Macelaru’s keen ear led the orchestra through adventurous texturing of Waves, the Horizon, The Blue Path, Colours, Mountains and Stars. Superb orchestral balance of sound filled the Civic. An enjoyable composition to be sure.

The renowned Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) composed his brilliant piano concerto in 1987. The 27-minute work was dedicated to fellow Polish countryman pianist Kyrstian Zimerman and first performed in August, 1988. This superb composition raised the bar for contemporary piano concertos to an incredible height.

John Corigliano’s (b.1938) Concerto for Piano and orchestra (1968, rev. 1984) approached this mark in many respects! The work was performed in celebration of Corigliano’s 80th birthday and 50th anniversary of the composition. The soloist Philip Edward Fisher performed the 35 minute work without score and with amazing artistic results! Corigliano approached the work employing a traditional  four-movement format: Molto Allegro, Scherzo, Andante appassionato  and Allegro. Movements three and four function as one and are continuous.The composer designed the work as having a B-flat tonal center along with a strict twelve tone section in the Trio. Rather than getting tangled in nomenclature, suffice it to report Corigliano succeeded in all respects in producing a piano concerto of the highest high caliber. Pianist Fisher was quite impressive throughout the work with flying arpeggios, chords and moments of staccato figures in counterpoint with the trumpets and then full orchestra. An extended moment in the slow section with the piano and bassoon became pensive, introspective and well calculated. Double bass drones in the low register against interesting non-tiring “minimalist” piano repetitions proved to work well. Corigliano’s creative imagination employed every articulation imaginable and all worked in his favor. Ideas from the beginning were recapitulated in the final moments that led to a texture bursting with virtuosic high energy and excellence!

Sean Shepherd’s composition Melt (2018) centered on the journey of a single drop of water from a glacier, but not without the point the composer made quite clearly: his concern and lament about the state of the Earth “from no more than a powerless bystander.” To depict the travel of the drop of water, tempo indications are designated “Frozen”, Drowning”, “Liquid” and Final”. At one point the fourteen-minute work dedicated to Maestro Cristi impressively took the dynamic marking “pianissimo” past the literal extreme, while still being clearly audible. Only an orchestra of this caliber could create this awesome effect.

The jovial Peter Shin (b.1991) was ecstatic in realizing his first “professional” orchestral experience: Hypercolor (2018) (World premiere and Festival Commission) made possible by composer John Adams and his wife Deborah O’Grady. Described by the composer “a self portrait of elusive wakefulness and sleep states.” The work depicts a string quartet interrupted by a series of percussive effects that serve to disrupt any attempt at sleep. Comic elements in the form of simple scale patterns soon developed into “serious”, impressive orchestral writing. The eight minute work was well performed and well received by the audience that acknowledged a talented composer with a future!

Abstractions (2016) by Anna Clyne (b.1980) (West Coast Premiere) employed the same format as both the Mussorgsky and Tarrodi works. Clyne used five contrasting contemporary artworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art and from the private collection of Rheda Becker and Robert Meyerhoff, whom this music honors. The strings served as a backdrop against which attractive wind textures were interspersed with percussion. Harp arpeggios, bowed vibes and cello arpeggios contributed to create an enjoyable, well thought out work.     

Many acknowledge and appreciate the huge amount of work Director Ellen Primack does for the Festival. Compositions are complex and challenging. Preventing music reviewers from having appropriate, positive contact with visiting composers and Maestro Cristi himself during Open Rehearsal breaks is disturbing. In no way does such interaction interfere with the rehearsal, au contraire it offers composers the opportunity to discus their works in more depth and greatly assists us in writing reviews for their readers who are Festival supporters eager to read what Festival reviewers have to say.

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