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The Mallarmé Chamber Players’ annual gala chose that big state on the left coast – you know, that weird place where the sun sets on the ocean – as the unifying theme both musically and gastronomically. All four composers, plus the food and wine enjoyed at the reception immediately following, has or had some relationship with the state of California. This unique event took place at the lovely and bucolic Kirby Horton Hall at the entrance to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and we were all fortunate that the threatening skies withheld their wrath 'til all the music was played and food, drink and camaraderie were enjoyed by all.
Except for perhaps Claude Debussy’s "Syrinx" and an unaccompanied flute sonata by J.S. Bach, it is rare to see a flutist take center stage all by their lonesome. Debra Reuter-Pivetta, principal flutist with the Greensboro Symphony, was the only musician playing live, but in fact her performance of Steve Reich’s "Vermont Counterpoint" for solo flute with CD is scored for solo flute accompanied by up to nine other pre-recorded flute parts. Written in 1982, the technology had not yet matured to use real time tape loops that have by now become a standard device. This is an early example of the minimalist style where brief musical ideas are repeated (some might say ad nauseum). Ms. Reuter-Pivetta alternated among standard flute, the deep, sexy alto flute, and the ear-piercing piccolo. She was masterful in this rhythmic tightrope, and the piece was well conceived so it knew when to say when without subjecting the audience to a hypnotic stupor.
Benjamin Lees, born in 1924, grew up and received most of his musical training in Los Angeles. He composed "Tapestry," a one-movement work for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, in 2004. Joining Reuter-Pivetta was clarinetist Michael Cysewski, cellist Fred Raimi and pianist Thomas Warburton. At times this work seemed more of a concerto for
cello as Mr. Raimi brilliantly tossed off the explosive passages that Lees called for.
Allen Anderson, California native and associate professor of music at UNC Chapel Hill, introduced his composition for piano trio called "Held in the Weave." This dense and rhythmically complex work was commissioned by the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC. Fellow UNC faculty member and violinist Richard Luby joined Raimi and Warburton in a well executed performance of this harrowing non-stop work with sections named Impetuoso-Cantabile-Vigoroso. My virgin impression is one of admiration for the compositional skill and complexity, but with little corresponding regard for the listener – almost a throwback to the academic compositions of the 60s and 70s. This is in direct contrast to the afternoon’s final work.
Currently living in San Franciso, composer Gabriela Lena Frank is an unlikely Jewish-Peruvian-Chinese ethnic melting pot, and her compositions often portray the difficult melding of folk-based ideas with sophisticated compositional styles. The seven-movement composition Suenos de Chambi, (Snapshots for an Andean Album) is a wonderfully evocative adventure for flute/alto flute and piano that is partly based on photographs by Martin Chambi, several of which were included in the program. Flutist Reuter-Pivetta was simply magical as she transcended her instrument and was able to conjure the Andean culture with her flutes. This concert is the first time I have had the pleasure of hearing her play, and she has brought forth a new standard of flute playing, here and anywhere else. Despite his generally stoic façade, pianist Warburton, as always, played with consummate skill, passion and interpretive grace.
With the musical California dreaming portion of the afternoon now completed, we proceeded to the portico for the wonderful food, and wine from three California wineries. The twenty-fifth year of Mallarmé, arguably the most creative chamber music organization in the United States, comes to a close, but we happily anticipate more eclectic events in the next season.