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San Francisco Classical Voice
CHAMBER MUSIC REVIEW September 28, 2001

The New and Unusual Two Times Around
Pamela Z: Persistence, Beth Custer: Scary Monster, Carlos Sanchez Gutierrez: De Kooning Movements II

By Jules Langert


Trust a new-music ensemble to come up with an interesting and unusual format for a concert. The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble's recital at Yerba Buena Forum Sunday combined discussion and performance to the benefit of composers and audience alike. First the group performed three newly-commissioned works by San Francisco-based composers; then the composers were interviewed onstage by violist/composer Kurt Rohde, one of the performers; next (after intermission), questions from the audience to the composers; and finally a repeat performance of the whole program. Through the interaction, the audience gained some sense of who the composers were and what they were trying to do. The discussion also, of course, gave the listeners an idea of what to listen for the second time through.

De Kooning Movements II, by Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, was the most accomplished and engrossing work on the program. Scored for string trio, oboe, and piano, the piece took its cues from the gestural energy of the painter's style. Sanchez-Gutierrez fashioned a complex, ever-shifting landscape of sound loosely analogous to the pictorial space in a de Kooning canvas. The chords, multiple voices, and instrumental timbres of this musical space varied enormously, from transparency through different densities, sometimes restricted to a narrow band, sometimes encompassing a wide spectrum of sound. This flexibility was a potent expressive resource that the composer used to excellent effect.

The piece began with a few half- and whole-steps played by the cello, separated by long silences. From these notes, an ephemeral web of contrapuntal voices and sonorities emerged, expanding and contracting from moment to moment. Occasionally a melody came out of the vortex. Sometimes the sound was reduced to a single line; sometimes the music rose clamorously to engage all the instruments. It was like a force of nature.

A Colorful Mosaic; A Folkish Collage

The other works on the program were markedly different, with a looser idea of expressive structure. Beth Custer's Scary Monster for string trio was arranged like a colorful mosaic, in brief, contrasting episodes. Changing textures and novel string effects were among its charms.

In her Persistence, for voice, string trio, piano, oboe, and bass clarinet, Pamela Z used electronically-processed vocal sounds to accompany her own live singing. Meanwhile, the instruments played short, repeated figures in a minimalist, somewhat folkish vein. These two forces remained separate but came together in various ways as a kind of collage. This was especially true at one climactic point, reached by a tumultuous crescendo of sound and motion. Z's singing was highly individual and intriguing, rich in vocal effects. Its improvisatory feel added a flavor of non-Western music to the mix .

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