August 6, 2008

Small Ensembles Bring Beautiful Music to Your Ears

By Sue Gilmore, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Aug. 6--THE RETREAT of the dog days of summer generally brings a bit of a lull in the classical music scene, but the flip side of that phenomenon is that we begin to catch drift of more good things to come in the fall. Most of the heavyweights, your big symphony and opera companies and well-funded presenting-arts organizations, long since have announced their seasons. Now some smaller but eminently worthy ensembles are ringing in with their plans, and it's a delight to see what they have on tap.

THE LEFT COAST CHAMBER ENSEMBLE, the San Francisco-based group of 12 instrumentalists who champion chamber works old and wet-ink new, enters its 16th season without the guidance of founder and artistic director Kurt Rohde, spending the year in Italy as a recipient of the Rome Prize for composition. Serving in his stead is group violinist Anna Presler, who comes well-prepared, having filled the same function six years ago when Rohde was in a similar residency for the Berlin Prize.

LCCE has an impressive total of six world premieres on its 2008-09 season of five programs, each presented first in Mill Valley's Throckmorton Theater on a Thursday night and repeated the following Monday in the Green Room of the Veterans Memorial Performing Arts Center in San Francisco. The season opens Nov. 6 in Mill Valley (Nov. 10 in San Francisco) with a "Metamorphoses"-themed program that includes Benjamin Britten's "Six Metamorphoses after Ovid" for

oboe solo and world premieres of a String Trio by Wayne Peterson and an Oboe Quartet by Bill Beck.

Subsequent programs with clever themes include the Dec. 11 and 15 "Happy Birthdays!" series featuring chamber music by the late French genius Olivier Messiaen and New York composer Elliott Carter, whose centenary dates fall Dec. 10 and 11, respectively. The Feb. 5 and 9 programs are devoted to works by Bach, Schumann and Gyorgy Kurtag. "Four Centuries of French Music" presents works spanning 400 years on April 2 and 6.

Perhaps most intriguing of all are the programs that close the season May 7 and 11. Schubert's beloved Romantic masterpiece, the "Trout Quintet," will be paired with three world premieres of contemporary works by Melinda Wagner, Eric Wubbels and YuHui Chang that use the same unusual instrumentation devised for the "Trout." (Schubert yanked the customary second violin from the traditional piano quintet and subbed in the heavier sound of the double bass; in its famous "extra" movement, the violin, viola, cello, bass and piano all take lead roles on variations of the "Die Fiorelle," the earlier Schubert song that gives "The Trout" its name.)

Season tickets for LCCE concerts, from $65-$95, are available at 415-642-8094 or Single-admission prices are $15 and $20 at the door.

NEWS OVER IN AMERICAN BACH SOLOISTS' shop, meanwhile, is that longtime associate and frequent soloist on Baroque trumpet (and current instructor at Carnegie Hall's Academy) John Thiessen has signed on as executive director. He steps in just as the acclaimed early music ensemble gears up for its 20th season, announced earlier this week by artistic director Jeffrey Thomas. The first order of business is the gala benefit dinner, concert and auction at 6 p.m. Sept. 27 in St. Stephen's Church in Belvedere. ABS will once again mount its traditional interpretation of Handel's "Messiah" for the holidays, performing it in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral Dec. 18-19 and at UC Davis' Mondavi Center Dec. 20.

After that, the subscription series concerts kick in, with each of four programs performed first in Belevedere, then Berkeley, San Francisco and Davis. Bach's magnificent Mass in B minor is the program for the Jan. 16-19 concerts, with sopranos Abigail Haynes Lennox and Ellen Hargis, alto Judith Malafronte, tenor Derek Chester and baritone Joshua Copeland as soloists.

The Feb. 13-16 programs feature respected Baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock in a 20th-anniversary solo concert. Four Bach cantatas comprise the March 13-16 concerts, with guest vocalists Yulia Van Doren, soprano, Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, and William Sharp, baritone. From April 3-6, soprano Mary Wilson and countertenor Ian Howell will be showcased in performances of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" and Handel duets.

The scene shifts back to San Francisco's Grace Cathedral for the final events of the season: a Handel Commemorative Celebration performed May 7-8 that will include both his choral writing and the beloved instrumental suites "Water Music" and the "Music for Royal Fireworks."

Subscriptions for four- and five-concert packages, ranging from $102-$193, are on sale at 415-621-7900 or Single tickets will be available Sept. 1.

Tuned In appears every other Friday in Weekend Preview. Reach Sue Gilmore at [email protected]


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