Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking part in two very enjoyable, but very different, concerts of chamber music. The first was as part of the Third Angle New Music Ensemble, which presented its Asian Music Now concert on Friday evening, which highlighted music by Asian composers, with music both brand new and a few years old.
The works that I was involved with on the Third Angle concert were two works for string quartet by the wonderful Chinese composer (and recent Pulitzer Prize winner) Zhou Long. The first, Chinese Folk Songs (2004), presented seven classical Chinese folk songs in varying settings for string quartet. While the melodic and harmonic language Zhou uses in his works is decidedly Chinese, his use of the instruments is very much in the Western classical vein. I found hints of Janacek and Debussy in Chinese Folk Songs, which is a masterpiece in how it handles two very different styles of music in such a masterful and fluent way. It was a joy to play these two great works with Ron Blessinger, Emily Cole, and Hamilton Cheifetz. The second work, Song of the Ch’in, is much more in the idiom of Chinese folk instruments, particularly the pipa, which the viola emulates in the opening moments of the piece. The final work for string quartet was the String Quartet No. 2: The Flag Project (2009), by Chinese composer Huang Ruo. A three movement meditation on the movements of Tibetan prayer flags in the wind, it was a challenging yet beautiful piece that suggests an ascendant career path for a composer from whom we will certainly be hearing things about in the future.
A very different concert was presented on Saturday evening, a marathon chamber music concert which served as a benefit for the Phame Academy, a wonderful program which serves developmentally disabled adult artists in Portland. Two of the artists from the Phame Academy began the program with two vocal and piano numbers, which showed the wonderful work that is being done by these exceptional artists. I was able to hear most all of the program before my piece, which was the last on the program. Everyone in the Kairos Ensemble played wonderfully together, a testament to the good-natured organizational skills and ebullient personality of violist Michelle Matthewson. Finally, six of us took to the stage for Brahms’ ever-popular and so fun-to-play Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major by Brahms.
The next day, Sunday, Heather and I were off to George, Washington to play at the Sasquatch Festival as part of the Harvey Rosenkrantz Orchestra with Pink Martini. Ten hours on a bus isn’t the most delightful way to travel, but when you’ve got great friends along for the ride (as well as lots of reading material), it goes by pretty quickly. The young crowd (much younger than the typical Oregon Symphony show with Pink Martini) seemed to love the performance, and after a quick post-show dinner buffet, it was back on the bus for the five hour trip back to Portland.
So, now I’ve got a couple weeks off until the Astoria Music Festival, so there is actually time to practice what I want, went I want, and how I want. Nice!