Review: Camerata Pacifica at Hahn Hall

Master Chamber Ensemble Premiered “Dreammusik” on March 7

If you wanted a representative experience of what Camerata Pacifica is all about, you couldn’t do much better than this concert: the premiere of a long-awaited commission by Russian-American composer, Lera Auerbach; a late clarinet work by Johannes Brahms; an edgy oboe-and-piano duet by a young Benjamin Britten; a surprise violin-and-piano serenade by Camerata co-principal pianist, Adam Neiman; and 11 of the finest internationally renowned musicians you will ever see sharing a Santa Barbara stage. Put simply, it was a tour of styles and instrumental combos that felt not so much like varieties of musical languages as visits to other worlds.

The tender Serenade for Violin and Piano was composed last year by Neiman for his wife. Neiman has enthralled Camerata audiences for years, but this was the first of his own works we’ve heard, giving a beguiling glimpse of his other oeuvre. Violinist Tereza Stanislav joined the composer for this winning opener.

Anyone listening to the purity and effortless agility of Spanish clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester can imagine why Brahms became enchanted by the instrument. Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 places that woodiest of woodwinds within a string quartet where the complementary timbre can blend or strike at cross-purpose.

Auerbach’s Dreammusik is a modern cello concerto in one movement (38 minutes) written especially for principal cellist Ani Aznavoorian, with supporting strings, winds, and percussion. This remarkable composer continues to amaze us, and persuade us, with an original ear that combines mastery of musical form with fresh approaches to ensemble and effects. But more important is her penchant for conjuring fascinating sound-worlds that feel more like places than events. On Friday, Aznavoorian was solid, fully immersed; her soaring cadenzas fit like a glove, or a second soul.

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