On Saturday evening, October 13, at St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Carmel Valley, Ensemble Monterey opened its 2018-2019 concert season with a program of works exclusively for strings. Dr. John Anderson not only directed the ensemble, but was also most likely the person who selected the works we heard. It was an interesting program, especially since the first half featured two composers seldom heard in live or recorded performances — Arthur Foote and George Antheil. Very likely I was not the only person in the audience to be hearing the works by Foote and Antheil for the first time.
Arthur Foote’s Suite for String Orchestra, Op. 63 was composed in 1907 at a time when he had to have been observing new composers shattering 19th century traditions and evolving new and controversial compositional styles. However, although Foote’s Suite for String Orchestra still had both feet firmly in the 19th century, it demonstrated excellent craftsmanship and turned out to be music that still has relevance to today’s audiences. After a solid and flowing opening Preludium, it was the startling Pizzicato and Adagio second movement that really attracted our attention. We had just heard the Ravel String Quartet performed a few weeks previously in Chamber Music Monterey Bay’s opening concert. Ravel’s deservedly-famous Pizzicato movement has to move over and make a place for Arthur Foote’s amazing contribution to the pizzicato string genre.
This was a terrific performance by Ensemble Monterey. Also impressive in this performance was the final Fugue. Some fugues have a bland subject that meanders along comfortably until a final stretto, but the Fugue subject in Artur Foote’s Suite was violently in our face and captured our attention immediately. It was the third statement of the fugue subject introduced by bass Kelley Beecher that really blew us away. I had not been aware of Kelley Beecher’s artistry before, but I will be looking out for him in future concerts.
The second work on the program was George Antheil’s Serenade for String Orchestra, I asked several people how to pronounce “Antheil” and received conflicting solutions. This morning I Googled “How do you pronounce George Antheil?” and again observed no consensus — either “an-TEEL” or “an-TILE.” In any case, the Suite is an effective work containing both moments that seemed comfortable and moments that challenged and provoked us — he wasn’t called “The Bad Boy of Music” for nothing. It is also a potpouri of brilliant string effects with interesting solos for the principal members of the ensemble (with another especially good solo for bassist Kelley Beecher).
After intermission we reveled in the lush sonorities of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. This very familiar work with its long drawn-out suspensions and dramatic, tension-filled agonizing climax never fails to make a powerful effect, and so it did on this occasion. It sounded especially good in the acoustically-rich environment of St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Carmel Valley.
The concert ended with Dvorak’s Serenade, Op. 22, a work, that however familiar it is to audiences today, also never fails to make a powerful effect, seducing us with its charm and vitality. It had many wonderful moments that held our attention from beginning to end.
One of the most impressive aspects of Ensemble Monterey is how Dr. Anderson not only consistently selects programs of significant interest, but also how he consistently enlists the talents of the finest musicians living in our community. Most concert presenting organizations are bringing in outside talent to entertain and enrich us, but Anderson is providing rich opportunities for local musicians, who might otherwise not get the credit they deserve.