Thursday, February 04, 2016

Super Music Week 2: Oboe Bliss with Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble gave a concert at the SF Conservatory of Music on Monday called "Oboe Bliss," a takeoff on the major piece on the program which was the 1927 Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet by British composer Arthur Bliss. (Photo above is from left to right violinist Anna Presler, violinist Ilana Thomas, oboist Tom Nugent, violist Phyllis Kamrin, and cellist Leighton Fong).

The concert started well, with Sacred Forest, a short world premiere written by Elinor Armer above who was working out themes for an upcoming opera she is hoping to write based on Ursula K. Le Guin's novel Lavinia "if only I can get a libretto to come through," she noted. The piece was written for the same forces as the Bliss Oboe Quintet, and it did sound like a Sacred Forest, gentle and slightly spooky.

Then there was a three-minute string trio by Berkeley composer Anthony Porter called five, six, seven... that involved a lot of plucked strings, and came and went before it had a chance to make an impression. The music wasn't helped along by the slow motion stage manager above from the Conservatory who took eons to rearrange chairs and music stands between pieces.

This was followed by Kurt Rohde's transcription of cinco of the Siete canciones populares Espanolas by De Falla for flautist Stacey Pelinka, violinist Anna Presler, oboist Tom Nugent, and cellist Leighton Fong. In the program notes, Rohde writes that "the Siete canciones is one of those pieces that can sort of survive anything," but this particular transcription seemed to work against the gypsy inflected melodies rather than with them, with the exception of Leighton Fong who somehow channeled a flamenco guitar at times.

Another short Elinor Armer composition, a viola solo played by Phyllis Kamrin, was another Le Guin influenced piece called Taking the Waters on Oling Island.

Finally, the Bliss Oboe Quintet arrived, and both the music and its performance were wonderful, particularly by oboist Tom Nugent above. Bliss (1891-1975) is another one of those composers who should be better known outside of his own country and it was a treat to hear a major piece live. I just wish the Ensemble had programmed something else by him, like the 1932 Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet rather than the scattershot fare preceding.

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