Friday, June 17, 2011

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble's Viaggio Italiano

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble consists of a dozen Bay Area musicians (including cellist Leighton Fong above) who program concerts mixing together brand new and older pieces of classical music. "Viaggio Italiano," the final concert of their eighteenth season, included the 2009 Brion by Harold Meltzer, a world premiere by Luciano Chessa called Come un'infanzia, the 1946 cello solo by Luigi Dallapiccola, Ciaccona, Intermezzo e Adagio, and finally Boccherini's Quintet #4 for Guitar and Strings from 1798.

I had never heard the group before, except at an Other Minds Music Festival concert earlier this year, and part of the reason is that they perform in the Green Room, the second story space at the front of the Veterans Building which is a delightful setting for parties but has horrendous acoustics in its long, high-ceilinged space. In a nice surprise, the music at this Monday evening concert last week survived just fine, starting with Meltzer's Brion which was a sextet divided into two contrasting sounds: mandolin and guitar bouncing off of a piccolo/alto flute, violin, and violoncello quartet. Melzer seemed to run out of ideas by the end of the twenty-minute piece but his musical ruminations on a Venetian cemetery really does sound beautiful.

After the Dallapiccola cello solo, which was very serious and very sad, followed by a very jolly intermission with a smart, interesting audience that all seemed to know each other, we sat back down and realized there were no musicians onstage but there were five draped sheets surrounding us. The house lights came down, lights under the sheets came on, and Chessa's programmatic piece about the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland began. The first Andante movement progressed with the musicians playing underneath the sheets and one by one coming out and joining each other onstage.

The Italian-born, Berkeley-based Chessa writes in the program:
"Learning about the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park was just plain fortuitous: when my friend Josh became the Peralta caretaker, that's when I got my first tour of the Park [the photo above is of Peralta House volunteer Ben]...I could not have conceived a piece about origins without looking at my own...Half a meditation on history and half a gentle utopia, Come un'infanzia is a piece on Oakland's infancy, on my infancy, on infancy period."

The theatrical ending of the utterly charming quintet had each of the performers kneel down on the floor and unwrap a piece of cellophane while their compatriots continued playing their instruments. The five cellophane wrappers each held a large spinning top, and the piece ended with the performers playing the five tops together with an amusing range of dynamics that slowly diminished to a final spinning toy.

There was a free repeat performance of the Chessa and Boccherini pieces last Saturday at the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park itself, and I hope they went as well as the Green Room concert.

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