Baroque Soloists boldly take the Vivaldi challenge
“For Vivaldi, time has been a fickle mistress. At the end of the Baroque era, his music was seen as passé. From the classical era to the romantic, his music was conscripted to virtual oblivion. In the 20th century, it was all about discovery. Today, his music from the “Four Seasons” is most recognizable and overexposed work from the Baroque period.
So, the great challenge these days is how to make Vivaldi’s music sound unexpected and alive.
The Sacramento Baroque Soloists on Saturday evening took on that challenge at St. Paul’s Church in Sacramento. These early-music specialists performed an all-Vivaldi concert to a sold-out house.
The highlight was Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor, “La Notte,” with flutist Cathie Apple as guest soloist. “La Notte” is a curious Vivaldi work; it’s dark and painterly in an almost modern way. And Apple, who performed this concerto on the tricky traverso flute, proved an incisive early-music performer. Apple has earned much street cred from her performances of new music, and on “La Notte,” she’s clearly added the baroque to her resume.
From the opening flute notes of the Largo that seem to condense out of a night fog, Apple’s tone was accurate and robust, yet never cloying. The best ensemble playing of the evening was performed here too. All the ornaments were delivered with tonal clarity, and each instrument came through as well-defined in the three-movement work.
Edward Ortiz - Sacramento Bee (Mar 10, 2009)
Citywater chamber ensemble wraps up new music festival
The city's most underrated and noteworthy music festival - the Festival of New American Music (FeNAM) - drew to a close Sunday, and it is only fitting that the chamber ensemble Citywater perform on its last day.
The locally based Citywater is most linked with the performance of new music in Sacramento, having debuted at FeNAM in 2007. In making its breakout concert at the festival, Citywater joins a proud lineage of artists who have debuted at the 33 year-old FeNAM, and that list includes the Kronos Quartet.
In the last three years, Citywater, which includes cellist Tim Stanley, flutist Cathie Apple, percussionist Ben Prima, violinist Charles Spruill IV, clarinetist Milun Doskovic and pianist Jennifer Reason, has claimed ownership as one of the most relevant and provocative groups to perform during the festival - so much so they are almost a mainstay.
And they have done so with performances like the one they gave Sunday afternoon at the Room 151 recital hall at Sacramento State University. The group likes to cast a wide net for works, but also stays true to favorite composers. In the past the emphasis has been on performing works of composer Stephen Mackey. Lately, the group has been keen on embracing the work of Sacramentan and New York-based composer Sunny Knable.
And it was with the premiere of his "Music of the Rails" that this bright sextet offered up its greatest charms on Sunday.
For a musician, learning a world premiere and having it ready for performance is a like a walk in the dark, and a race against time. Much harder still is selling the work to an audience, since premieres are often rough and musically unprecedented affairs. Neither the constraints of time nor musical salesmanship proved an obstacle to this ensemble in performing Knable's three-movement piece.
The music here is of the programmatic variety, and the focus the railroad. With "Music of the Rails" Knable was not afraid of getting literal, as evidenced by the appearance of the tune "I've been working on the Railroad" both as theme and motif. Some of the music was written with cast iron weightiness one moment, and frothy clouds of musical wit the next.
In the first movement, a percussive motif emulating the sound of railroad workers driving home spikes, set the plate for a dialog between strings and woodwinds. During "Rise Up So Early in the Morn" the music was more lyrical, and meant to convey a ride on the rails. At one point in the movement musicians left the stage, one by one, including Prima, who moved behind the white sound panels, to play a set of percussion instruments mimicking the sound and cadence of an approaching steam locomotive.
In the last movement, the music threatened to spiral out of control with each instrument being asked to hew to the crescendo of the music. There was enough sonic muddle in the orchestration to rob much power from the ending here, and some of the percussion parts throughout stuck out like a sore thumb, but overall it was an impressive work whose music offered sparks of color and inventiveness.
Also noteworthy, because of vastly different charms, was Richard Cionco's "Six Postcards." This six-movement suite, a crowd pleaser, proved Cionco's deft hand at writing iconoclastic music where less is more, and the clipped musical phrase a powerful tool. In the lush and engaging "...from the Middle of Nowhere," the music conjured the tango, a la Piazzolla, but more distant and obtuse. The musical logic in all the movements was extra clean, and emotionally weighty. Each movement seemed as if it ended as soon as it began, like short fiction that begs the turning of more pages that are not in the offing.
With Stephen Blumberg's "Mirage" the music was more wave-like in pattern, with musical motifs reappearing and each idea morphing with the interplay of Duskovic's full and well rounded clarinet sound and Apple's shimmering flute work.
On Jennifer Higdon's potent "Zango Bandango" the ensemble played with buoyancy, and the quirky virility of their arrangement of Frank Zappa's "G Spot Tornado," showed how tight this sextet can play, especially when the violin and clarinet played in unison. The effect gave rise to a sudden burst of color.
In offering this smartly conceived and demanding concert, Citywater has revealed a penchant for taking risk while staying loyal to its stable of favorite composers. That's a good formula for any new music group to follow - and the ultimate winner is the momentarily indefinable but necessary thing that is new music.
Edward Ortiz - Sacramento Bee (Nov 15, 2010)