Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble
Fugue, Fantasy and New Companions
December 14, 8pm
The Green Room
San Francisco War Memorial

Anna Presler, artistic director, violin
Thomas Nugent, oboe
Phyllis Kamrin violin
Kurt Rohde, viola
Leighton Fong, cello

Benjamin Britten: Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings
Beethoven: Grosse Fuge in Bb, Op. 133
Sam Nichols: Refuge for String Quartet
Kristin Kuster: Midnight Mirror

Even though we were gathered for a program of new music for string quartet, the pre-concert chatter was all about Lady Gaga's concurrent appearance at the nearby Bill Graham Auditorium. Our own show began with an early Britten piece with oboe that made me think of a jaunty walk through the English countryside. The members of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble had obvious fun playing together, & there is good communication among them. Their Grosse Fuge was tight & rattling. I liked the playing of 1st violin Anna Presler, whose sound has a nice bite & whose phrasing decisions are very clear.

The 2 string quartets in the 2nd half were specifically commissioned for this program & intended as companion pieces for the Grosse Fuge. Both works were about 15 minutes long, & so on the same scale as their model. Composer Sam Nichols was present & spoke a few amusing words about his work, referencing a story line from The Sopranos when explaining his take on the meaning of "companion." His piece was akin to the Grosse Fuge in its many abrupt shifts of mood, some of them quite violent. I liked the funny ending, with its pizzicato notes getting quieter & quieter as they sneak in from different instruments. Kristin Kuster's contribution similarly used fragments of chords & intervals from the Grosse Fuge & mostly had the instruments playing vigorously in parallel. It made for a finale that was loud & full of exertion.

As well as their CDs, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble had a light-weight tote bag for sale. We were invited to join members of the ensemble at Momi Toby's Revolution Cafe after the concert.

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