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Gerald Carpenter: Camerata Pacifica Winds to Blow Hot, Cool and Sweet

The April concerts of the innovative chamber music association Camerata Pacifica take place at 1 and 7:30 p.m. Friday in Hahn Hall on the Music Academy of the West campus.

Thea Musgrave
Halfway through her ninth decade, Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave continues to charm and persuade.

The participating Camerata members are Martin Owen on horn, John Steinmetz on bassoon, Jose Franch-Ballester on clarinet, Adrian Spence on flute, Nicholas Daniel on oboe and Warren Jones on piano.

The program concentrates on chamber music featuring wind instruments, including Jake Heggie's Soliloquy for Flute and Piano (2012); Thea Musgrave's "Narcissus" for flute & digital delay system (1987); Herbert Howells' Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1942); Madeleine Dring's Trio for Flute, Oboe, and Piano (1968); and Wolfgang Mozart's Quintet in Eb-Major for Piano and Winds, K. 452 (1784). Those attending the 1 p.m. lunchtime concert will hear the Musgrave and Mozart pieces only.

Heggie's Soliloquy was commissioned in memory of Suzanne Makuch (1939-2012), late of Camarillo. The mood is quite palpably elegiac, and the piece is exquisitely meditative.

The irreplaceable Musgrave (born in 1928) — too vital at 86 to be patronized as a "national treasure" — has this to say of her Narcissus: "The work follows the myth of Narcissus closely: the 'live' flute taking the part of Narcissus and the echo effects produced by the digital delay system evoking Narcissus' reflection. Perhaps the story is best summed up in the quotation from Herman Melville's Moby Dick: 'And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life ....'"

I can only add that the piece is tremendously involving and listenable.

Howells (1892-1983) attended the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in September 1910 and heard the world premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. It was a musical experience that became the foundation of his own compositional standards. As if that weren't powerful enough for one day, after the Tallis, Vaughan Williams himself came to sit next to Howells for the remainder of the concert.

Between selections, VW chatted with the star-struck young composer and showed him his copy of the score of Edward Elgar's great oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius, based on the poem by John Henry Cardinal Newman. Howells went on to concentrate on choral music, a worthy successor to both Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Instrumental compositions are rare in his extensive output, chamber music rarer still. The Oboe-Piano Sonata, composed in the darkest year of World War II, is not itself particularly dark, though it is amazingly concentrated.

Writing of the Dring Trio in a preview of a recent Music Club concert, I said: "Madeline Dring (1923-1977) was a British composer, pianist and singer. She wrote a lot for her own instrument, and also — since her husband was the oboist, Roger Lord — for the oboe. She studied with Vaughan Williams, admired and was influenced by French composer François Poulenc, whose light and witty spirit often finds reflection in her works. One musicologist says that her 'style is typically light and unpretentious,' while another wrote that her music 'never displayed influences of contemporary developments, but it was distinctive, entertaining and suffused with vivacity and wit.'"

For tickets and other concert information, call Camerata Pacifica at 805.884.8410 or visit Camerata online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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