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REVIEW: SW Chamber Music @ The Huntington, 8/11

by Daniel Corral
August 22, 2013

On August 11, I had the pleasure of attending one of Southwest Chamber Music's Summer Festival concerts on the peristylar loggia of the Huntington Art Gallery. I had spent that afternoon on a panel for the Society of Experimental Musicians, discussing the importance of context in music. As we entered the Huntington estate and boarded the loggia, it occurred to me that there may not be a more appropriate context in the Los Angeles area to hear chamber music by the likes of Wagner, Reger, and Brahms.

For those unaware of the Summer Festival at the Huntington, it is available from two angles. The musicians are positioned on the outer edge of the loggia, facing the art gallery's entrance. The more affluent audience members sit up on the loggia with the chamber ensemble facing them. The rest of the audience sits on the lawn, with a view of the musicians' backs. However, this doesn't diminish the experience of attending the concerts. The music is still perfectly audible, and it allows these audience members the chance to picnic and luxuriate on the expansive lush pasture, similar to attending a Cinespia screening at Hollywood Forever (but less crowded).

With a perusal of the festival's program book, one could infer a curatorial exploration of dichotomy as a festival theme. The first night opened with Stravinsky's Wind Octet, while another concert closed with Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. This coming weekend's concert presents Benjamin Britten and Hans Werner Henze together, perhaps recallling the warring factions of Western Europe's great wars of the 20th century. The presence of dualities could explain the programming of Wagner's Albumleaf for Betty Schott on this particular concert. The first music that Wagner wrote after completing Götterdämmerung, you can hear the composer taking a breath of fresh air as this refreshing piece floats on a breeze of ornamentation. While pianist Ming Tsu did a great job treating this piece with due delicacy, my favorite moment was when the doppler effect of a distant small plane inched it's way across the tonal center for a b rief second in the piece's opening. It was a wonderful moment of subtle Lucier-esque magic, and a perfect way to open the evening's proceedings.

Returning to the theme of context and dichotomy, Reger's Quintet in A major for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 46 was presented as the work of an intermediary composer between Wagner and Brahms. I must admit that I am less familiar with Reger's output than I'd like to be, so it was a welcome treat to hear his music live. The ensemble, featuring clarinetist Jim Foschia, presented a clear and articulate performance of Reger's work. Much of the writing involved the clarinet playing long, lyrical phrases while the string quartet churned and arpeggiated around it. Southwest Chamber Music's string quartet, consisting of Lorenz Gamma, Shalini Vijayan, Luke Maurer, and Peter Jacobson, did a stellar job as usual melding their playing into singular musical entity, gilding Foschia's clarinet.

After an intermission, Andrew Pelletier took the stage with Ming Tsu and Lorenz Gamma to perform Brahms' Trio in Eb for Violin, Horn, and Piano, op. 40. Pelletier played against brass stereotypes with his skillful ensemble blending and tasteful dynamics. I especially enjoyed their performance of the melancholic Adagio. Again recalling context, the relatively unadorned austerity of the Brahms drew attention to itself in contrast to Wagner's Albumleaf. With Reger couched between the two, the result was an evening-length treatise on late 19th century European music.

Southwest Chamber Music has one more concert in their Summer Festival at the Huntington, and it is this weekend. On August 24 and 25 they will present pieces by Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze, and Leos Janácek. I would suggest treating yourself to a wonderful evening of music at the Huntington.

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