The first piece performed at the opening concert of the ninth annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival did not live up to its title. It was called Asleep by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, but the full house audience was clearly awake and remained so for the duration of a supremely entertaining two-hour concert of lesser known composers.
Asleep was performed by Yehonatan Berick, violin, Joyce Lai, violin, Ian Clarke, viola, Rachel Mercer, cello, with Jonathan Goldman on the bandoneon, an instrument we might call a squeeze-box in the vernacular. It gave a Latin feel to the Piazzolla tangos and a richer sound to the music.
The accomplished Can-adian violinist Lara St. John, who has been described as volcanic, erupted on stage in a lightning speed, fiery performance of a traditional Romanian dance transcribed for her by Michael Atkinson. The Chamber Music Festival’s artistic director Alexander Tselyakov on piano took a subdued role to St. John’s mesmerizing performance.
François Houle made magic with his clarinet on his own composition, Aerial XXI, that involved a piano that seemingly played itself and an iPad. Houle also engaged the audience with another clarinet fantasy by Adolf Schreiner designed to be played during the waning moon, he told them. But it was the Eine kleine Lachmusik, (a parody of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik) performed by the ensemble that had the audience laughing as they recognized fragments of other works that crept into this entertaining piece.
St. John performed again on fiery Hungarian music leaving the audience breathless before the ensemble returned to Piazzolla and closed with a classic Argentine tango.
A full house turned out for Friday’s free concert, Chamber Music Doesn’t Bite, including 26 children who were introduced to this style of music.
The concerts that followed last weekend demonstrated the care taken in assembling these particular musicians.
In his opening remarks, artistic director Tselyakov said he always creates something different for each festival each year. In fact, the musicians have never played the same piece of music twice over the nine years of the festival.
“It was a cohesive group of musicians,” said John Storer of the Pender Harbour Music Society, “and that was reflected in the final ensemble playing.”
A highlight for Storer was the Beethoven Spring violin sonata by St. John and Tselyakov on Friday evening. He also called the final concert “spectacular,” adding that Navarra (Danza Espagñole) by Pablo de Sarasate and performed with two violins and piano was a real tour de force.
Houle struck a chord with the audience. The Brahms clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E flat major is well known, but Houle and Tselyakov on piano managed to give it a slightly different interpretation. It is this desire to keep the festival fresh and new that keeps the audience returning and also prompts them to dig into their pockets for the ongoing donations that match government and corporate sponsorships.
To celebrate their 10th anniversary next year, the Pender Harbour Music Society will bring two much admired musicians back this coming Jan. 24 to 26. Catherine Ordronneau and Kai Gleusteen will perform three concerts over three days comprised of 10 Beethoven sonatas.
Tickets are on sale now. Find out more at www.penderharbourmusic.ca.