Review: Camerata Pacifica Season Opener at Hahn Hall

Violinist Paul Huang Performed a Stunning Debut on Friday, September 20

The inaugural performance of Camerata Pacifica’s 24th season planted itself firmly on this side of the Atlantic and in this moment in history, with works by three American composers (John Harbison, John Serry, and John Novacek) and one Chinese-American composer (Huang Ruo) — all of them living today, and all working in diverse genres that extend far beyond the classical concert hall — notably jazz, rock, film scoring, and even traditional Chinese ritual. While some analysts bemoan diminishing audiences for classical music, Camerata Pacifica Director Adrian Spence continues to welcome the fertility and vitality of emerging crossovers. Whether or not we are in the midst of a “second renaissance,” as he has written, it is clear that barriers are falling, definitions are softening, and the tuxedoed concert hall is loosening its tie.

Two intensely dynamic solo works broke the evening in, beginning with a stunning debut by the 22-year-old Taiwan-born violinist Paul Huang, who played Harbison’s Four Songs of Solitude. Paul Huang’s commanding metallic tone gave vividness to Harbison’s insistent questioning of the silence. Percussionist Ji Hye Jung once again brought her marimba magic to the group with a stunning performance (from memory) of Serry’s Night Rhapsody, a work that pushes instrumental technique to the limit.

The most daring feature of the evening was a revisiting of Huang Ruo’s To the Four Corners, which Camerata Pacifica premiered in 2009. Ruo’s sensibility reaches back to the origins of performing arts in ancient ritual, where sound, vision, and movement were united. Primitive sounds and eerie spotlighting prevailed.

The second half of the concert was all fun — whimsical and sophisticated 21st-century takes on Americana. Harbison’s Songs America Loves to Sing arranges 10 tunes, including “Amazing Grace” and “St. Louis Blues,” for five instruments. Novacek’s Four Rags for Two Jons was Scott Joplin on steroids, frequently jumping the harmonic tracks — Warren Jones (piano) and José Franch-Ballester (clarinet) went out swinging.

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