Sunday, July 16, 2017

New music, composers, performers, and venues - celebrated via Chamber Music Northwest

Over the past few years, Chamber Music Northwest has explored new territories, such as new venues, new compositions, new composers, and new performers. I got to hear all of these elements combined in one concert on Wednesday evening, July 12, at the Alberta Rose Theatre in Northeast Portland. Originally a movie theater from the 1920s, the theater has a full bar in the lobby, an adequate stage for small ensembles, decent acoustics, and seating for 400 people. The space was fairly full for the concert, which featured works by Rebecca Clarke, Helen Grime, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Clara Schumann.

The Claremont Trio, an up-and-coming ensemble that was making its first appearance at CMNW’s summer festival, played most of the pieces on the program. Consisting of twin sisters Emily Bruskin (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello), and Andrea Lam (pianist), the group did a terrific performance of “Four Folk Songs for Violin, Cello, and Piano (2012), which was written for the trio by Gabriela Lena Frank in homage to her mother’s homeland, Peru. I can still hear the bells of the Maria Angola church (the cathedral in Cusco, Peru) from the first movement reverberating across the cityscape. The second movement, “Children’s Dance” marvelously evoked kids skipping, chasing, screaming, and having a great time with each other. The “Serenata” movement used a lot of pizzicati that was fairly loud, eliciting the guitar and vocal duo that are common in restaurants. The final movement hearkened back to the warlike yet artistic Inca past with edgy, nervous energy.

The Claremonters wonderfully conveyed Helen Grime’s abstract yet tender “Three Whistler Miniatures” (2011). The dynamics were often placed on the extreme edges with szforandos and highly dynamic contrasts, ending with sad glissandos. I have to admit that I just didn’t grasp the work, perhaps because it was so short (ten minutes), but I would enjoy hearing it again.

The concert concluded with Clara Schumann’s “Piano Trio in G Minor,” which the Claremont Trio played with verve. It featured strong thematic content, lots of Sturm und Drang-like emotion, soaring melodic lines, exciting races up and down mountainsides, and a fugue to end all fugues. The members of the ensemble seemed transfixed in their playing – with Emily Bruskin moving about so animatedly that it made me marvel at how she could keep control of her instrument. The ensemble plumbed the depths of the piece emphatically and that really resonated with the audience.

Violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama and pianist Lam, kicked off the concert with Clarke’s “Sonata for Viola and Piano” (1919), diving into its bold opening statement with gusto. The duo explored the exotic touches of the piece expertly that were oddly contrasted with rough and tough qualities going on at the same time. It seemed that Lam played a tad too loudly whenever the music moved into forte territory. That might have been due to lack of rehearsal time in the venue, which has a fairly decent acoustic for an old movie house.

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