It was apparent from the moment one entered the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall on Friday night that there would be some unusual music in the opening concert of Camerata Pacifica’s 2009-10 season. An elaborate lighting system had been set up onstage, and it hovered over several pieces of percussion equipment. Music stands were stationed around the percussion center in quadrants, and when the players took their places, all but percussionist Ji Hye Jung were cloaked in darkness. So began Huang Ruo’s “To the Four Corners,” one of the most exciting and challenging pieces of music the group has taken on in recent history. Ruo is an adventurous contemporary classical composer from China, and this work gave one the feeling that he had truly gone to the four corners of the Earth for inspiration. Spanish clarinet star Jose Franch-Ballester followed the opening statement with a keening, abstract clarinet solo, and the music got much more exotic from there. Extended techniques of all kinds were included, from Adrian Spence overblowing for harmonics on his flute to violist Richard O’Neill and violinist Catherine Leonard rotating through their “four corners” positions while singing and reciting. Each new sonic event was a surprise. “To the Four Corners,” despite its apparent difficulty for new listeners, nevertheless got a standing ovation from the Camerata Pacifica audience, who generally are more likely to get to their feet for Brahms. The work bodes well for the upcoming commission of a chamber concerto by Ruo that Camerata Pacifica has scheduled for next season.
After the interval, the group’s principal artists-Leonard on violin, Ani Aznavoorian on cello, and O’Neill on viola-were joined by pianist Warren Jones for two exquisite quartets for piano and strings. The first was by Joaqu-n Turina and the second was by Ludwig van Beethoven, and they amply demonstrated the remarkable rapport that this group of musicians has established through playing together for several years. The Turina, which was great, can be heard at instantencore.com as a streaming audio file, and is definitely worth a listen, both in order to appreciate this wonderful group of musicians, and to become more familiar with this composer, who has a work programmed on one of the upcoming Santa Barbara Symphony concerts as well.