Ensemble Monterey’s Tribute to an Early Spring

Spring has come early to my yard. The pines are full of pollen, the roses and other shrubs are budding, morning walks include a swing by the seal pupping beach. I hadn’t thought about it being “early” until seeing the title for the concert on February 22, 2020. I suppose so though, there are places with snow still on the ground in February. For this early Spring evening, Ensemble Monterey under the leadership of Dr. John Anderson offered 3 pieces for our listening pleasure. I chose to attend the performance at First Presbyterian Church, Monterey. The ensemble for this concert is made up of 15 instrumentalists, all playing string instruments. This venue presents a wonderful opportunity to really experience a chamber orchestra. The seating is on a lower level than where the musicians sit on the wood platform. This gives us great acoustics for hearing the music and good viewpoint to watch the musicians at work. 

 Starting the program was Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Opus 6 by Josef Suk. The titles for the four movements (Andante con moto, Allegro ma non troppo e grazioso, Adagio, and Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo presto) can lull the listener into expecting a work filled with lovely romantic melodies that please the ear. This listener was pleased to experience just that. Being close to the musicians, I caught how the melodies were passed from one section to another. There were many times when the first chair of the section took on a brief solo role. That’s well nigh impossible to discover on a recording! Some of those melodies reminded one of film scores. What fun to listen and watch and imagine just what plotline that melody could fit with.

After a brief reconfiguration of the seating for the strings, we were treated to Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Co-locating the musicians into the 3 groups did help one follow how Vaughan Williams deconstructed the Tallis melody. The rich sonority achieved by Ensemble Monterey brought the music to life for me. As a liturgical organist, I’m well acquainted with the tunes. What Ensemble Monterey presented to us gave me a greater understanding of the composition. Each member of the quartet, along with the dialogue between the two larger groups, presented the lush melodies, the delicate shimmer of harmonies and power of music. One could hear the question and listen for the answer that has yet to come.

The second half of the concert was a musical exploration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s aesthetic: Fallingwater by Michael Daugherty. This work for solo violin and strings is a musical tribute to the architect. Daugherty focused on 4 buildings — Taliesin, Fallingwater, Unity Temple and the Guggenheim Museum. Each of the movements focuses on a different building designed by the great architect. I felt as though the composer was pushing these musicians to the limits employing unusual techniques and effects. As soloist, David Dally played with gusto and finesse. I am glad I heard this group perform this piece for my first experience of Daugherty’s composition. 

 I enjoy hearing a local group in a local setting. It’s a personal goal of mine to encourage people to make music, attend concerts, and learn about this art form. I commend to you Raul Nava Off the Menu column in the February 19, 2020 edition of the Monterey Herald. He talks of reviewing restaurants. I share his philosophy. I hope that what I write for this site encourages someone to buy a ticket to attend a concert that may not have joined the fun before. For this concert of Ensemble Monterey, each member of the group faithfully played with sensitivity creating a cohesive performance.  For those who know the compositions well, there was familiar music to enjoy. For those who were experiencing these works for the first time, the music was approachable. A performance combined with attending the preconcert talk by conductor Anderson will give one a memorable experience that can stoke the curiosity for music. Come join us for the fun. 

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