Camerata Pacifica February Concert

Mendelssohn at Midday

With regularity that rivals a pulse, every month Camerata Pacifica pumps out a fresh program of chamber music and, in the span of one week, sends this musical vitality through four concert venues from Santa Barbara to Pasadena. But only Santa Barbara gets an additional “Lunchtime” concert — an abbreviated program with general seating and no intermission. Friday’s concert ran a brisk 40 minutes and centered on one serious piece, Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839).

But before the music began, Camerata patrons were dealt a blow. A program insert announced that principal violinist Catherine Leonard will leave the ensemble at the end of this season. The loss of a principal violinist would be a challenge for any chamber group, but for an ensemble as brilliant and stable as Camerata Pacifica, the shift takes on seismic proportions. Leonard’s sound, writes Artistic Director Adrian Spence, has been crucial. “Her sensibility, phrasing, and color palette, quite literally, set the tone for the group.” The Irish violinist plans to focus on opportunities in her homeland and other areas in Europe.

Before the Mendelssohn, principal cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist Adam Neiman played a thrilling duet by Los Angeles composer Gernot Wolfgang. Wolfgang’s music often revels in his jazz roots, as well as the quicksilver of film music. Vine Street Express (2008), with its repeating riff in the piano and upbeat jazzy drive, is unusually accessible. Complex cello commentary gives the feeling of improvisation, and technical prowess is pushed in both instruments.

When Leonard entered for the Mendelssohn wearing bright red heels, I thought of Dorothy’s departure from Oz, tapping her ruby shoes together and repeating “There’s no place like home.” But no gift from any wizard could rival the skill of these three musicians playing one of the most beloved and challenging trios in the repertoire. A standing ovation signaled not only enthusiasm for the program but also gratitude for what has been and support for the transitions that lie ahead.

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