However acoustically magnificent urban venues like Disney Hall might be, you are aware that traffic, asphalt, and chaos are only one wall away. By contrast, Miraflores, the estate-campus for the Music Academy of the West, is a symphony for the senses with its Spanish revival architecture, stone walkways, terraced lawns, mature trees, ocean breezes, and water lily pond. If music is a jewel, Miraflores is the setting; it is impossible to believe that such natural beauty does not affect inspiration in the concert hall.
If you are one of those patrons who lingers while climbing from the lower parking lot, someone who pockets your ticket until the last minute to feast your senses on the cool garden surrounds, then the Friday Picnic Concert series is for you. For several Fridays mid-festival, the Music Academy holds out a special invitation to patrons to load up a picnic basket and dine for a couple of hours before the concert at tables and chairs courteously set all over the grounds.
Last Friday was the second of the series, and there proved not a shred of bad luck for either weather or music. The chamber music program that followed the picnic was chosen by the musicians themselves and consisted of short works or isolated movements, appropriately a light meal rather than a full course. Part of the Music Academy training stresses poise and presentation, and accordingly, an impromptu introduction spoken by one of the musicians preceded each of the five ensembles, imbuing the composition with context and personality.
A fluent rendering of the “Allegro moderato” movement from Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 began the concert. Pianist Robin Giesbrecht reminded the audience that this famous “Archduke” trio was the last piece Beethoven played in public and proceeded to commence with a wistful sensitivity that illustrated the point.
Two movements from César Franck’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano followed. Violinist Ji Young Park played with captivating authority and lyricism. An unusual wind quintet by Heitor Villa-Lobos spiced up the fare with modern tonal language and a patchwork of varying tempo zones. Quintette en forme de chôros combines the varying colors of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn in a collaborative venture of unsuspected contours that highlight each player. Flutist Daniel Sharp’s clear tone silvered the upper sonic edge.
After intermission, trumpeter Nina Dvora was featured in Jean Françaix’s Sonatine pour trompette et piano, with its jazz-influenced stride piano and use of the mute. At one point, an unaccompanied free-form trumpet monologue erupted in a kissing squeak that delighted the audience and demonstrated Dvora’s conversance with Françaix’s wit.
A final ensemble of five strings played the initial movement of Antonín Dvořák’s String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77. Violinist Benjamin Hoffman prepared our ears by introducing the two simple themes that form the foundation of the “Allegro con fuoco,” and then Dvořák’s inventive imagination took over. These skilled string players conveyed all of the dramatic contrasts in this masterpiece with freshness and assurance, the fruit of intensive Academy hours that are, without doubt, not always a walk in the garden.