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Camerata Pacifica to Perform Pieces by Wynton Marsalis, Tan Dun

Pipa player Min Xiao Fen. (Noah Stern Weber photo)

The music for Camerata Pacifica’s next program explores two very different cultural phenomena from two very different cultures: ​Wynton Marsalis's At the Octoroon Balls - String Quartet No.1 and Tan Dun's Ghost Opera.

Written by the jazz trumpet legend, composer, and educator Wynton Marsalis, At the Octoroon Balls was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and premiered in 1995.

Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, a leading actor in the expansion of new works beyond the traditional bounds of “Western” music, Ghost Opera was composed in 1994.

The “octoroon balls” were a primarily 18th-century New Orleans phenomenon where white men came to meet “octoroon” women — that is, women of mixed racial descent (an octoroon being 1/8 black, a quadroon 1/4 black), mostly as mistresses, as intermarriage was forbidden by law.

The arrangements that ensued were known as plaçage, an extralegal system of common-law marriage that allowed men to set up dual households.

Marsalis was born in New Orleans, and as the composer Bruce Adolphe put it, Marsalis’s musical education included “traditional jazz in a Baptist church, R&B, the Crispy Critters (top 40 band), Juilliard, salsa bands, Broadway pits and the Brooklyn Philharmonia; culminating in a relationship with Art Blakey as a regular with the Jazz Messengers.”

All of this history suggests a work that will have a hybrid quality, perhaps being part jazz, part New Orleans ragtime, part Beethoven string quartet.

There are many disparate influences in Ghost Opera, which shape the piece and make it perhaps as much a performance piece or installation as a traditional work of concert music; indeed, the score states “Music, text and installation by Tan Dun.”

The piece is modeled on a Chinese exorcism ceremony, the ancient shamanistic “ghost operas.” These were repressed by the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution, but persisted outside major cities.

The ceremonies were conducted by a shaman who could communicate with the ghost world; this is evoked in Ghost Opera, which Tan has called a “dialogue between past and future, spirit and nature.”

At the Octoroon Balls and Ghost Opera will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, at The Huntington in San Marino; 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles; 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, at Hahn Hall in Santa Barbara; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura. 

Performers include Paul Huang, Agnes Gottschewski (violin); Richard O’Neill (viola); Ani Aznavoorian (cello); and Min Xiao-Fen (pipa).

Subscription pricing for the remaining four concerts (facility fees included) in Camerata Pacifica's season range from $189-220.

Those who have not before enjoyed a subscription can enjoy four concerts for $125, plus applicable facility fees.

Single ticket prices range from $30-56. 

Student rush tickets cost $10 (plus facility fee) and will be issued 30 minutes prior to concert time to those with a valid student i.d.

— Donna Jean Liss is the operations manager at Camerata Pacifica.


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