Feb 122013
 

525px-LostThis season I’ve heard a fair amount of chamber music, including concerts at the UCLA Clark Library, Cal Tech, the Colburn Music School, and all of the concerts in the Chamber Music Series of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

What strikes me at mid-season is just how hard it is to get the balance right between the instruments, especially when it comes to the viola, an instrument which to my ears is frequently underplayed.

As often happens it is the exceptions that lead to insights. Lawrence Dutton of the Emerson Quartet in the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 12 at Cal Tech and Dana Hansen of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Bartok String Quartet No. 1 both played with an assertiveness that kept the viola parts, even in an accompanying role, from fading into the background. Their playing enfranchised the viola so that it could stand its ground between the more piercing quality of the violins and the more substantial sound of the cello. Without this assertiveness in the viola a string quartet sounds top-heavy and the opportunity for an interchange of equals is lost.

On January 27, 2013 I went to the Honors Recital at the Colburn School in Los Angeles (www.colburnschool.edu). The school already puts on an excellent Chamber Music Series with faculty (including visiting artists such as the Ebène Quartet) and advanced conservatory students but the Honors Recital is different in that it features pre-college age students in a mixed program.

Because the selections were so interesting and the level of playing was so high I am including the entire program:

Brass Quintet No. 1, Op. 5 in b-flat minor (1890) by Victor Ewald

Eli Brown, trumpet (age 17)

Sean Whitworth, trumpet (age 17)

Steve Harmon, horn (age 18)

Liam Wilt, trombone (age 18)

Jon Forsander, tuba (age 17)

 

Sonata in d minor, Op. 27, No. 3 “Ballade” (1923) by Eugène Ysaÿe

Geneva Lewis, violin (age 14)

 

Cantabile et Presto (1904) by Georges Enesco

Michelle Sung, flute (age 17)

Roberta Garten, piano

 

Sonata, Op. 26 (1949) by Samuel Barber

Nicholas Mendez, piano (age 13)

 

Concerto No. 3 in b minor, Op. 61 (1880) by Camille Saint-Saëns

Mina Hong, violin (age 18)

Anton Smirnov, piano

 

Concerto for Viola (1928-29; revised 1961) by William Walton

Benjamin Penzner, viola (age 17)

Roberta Garten, piano

 

Preludes 1-3 (1926) by George Gershwin

Ho Joon Kim, piano (age 13)

 

Caprice basque (1881) by Pablo de Sarasate

Kristina Zlatareva, violin (age 19)

Sarah Yong, piano

 

String Quartet in F major (1902-03) by Maurice Ravel

Adam Millstein, violin (age 17)

Anna Vosbigian, violin (age 17)

Benjamin Penzner, viola (age 17)

Dustin Seo, cello (age 17)

I’m reluctant to single out a single player but if I return to the viola I’ve got to say that the young man, Benjamin Penzner, who played the Andante comodo of the Walton Viola Concerto is already at age 17 an accomplished violist. His playing had the qualities I’ve recently been straining to hear.

As I mentioned in my previous post, The Double, it is very worthwhile to follow the Performances page of the Colburn School’s website. In fact, there are even more events that you can learn about by subscribing to their email update service. For example, here’s an excerpt from the latest email; it announces a performance by the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts piano trio, which includes Geneva Lewis, who played the Ballade for solo violin by Ysaÿe so marvelously in the Honors Recital.

The Colburn Community School of Performing Arts piano trio, Geneva Lewis (violin), Rochelle Lewis (cello) and Katelyn Vahala (piano) placed second in the Junior Chamber Music Competition and will be performing at LACMA on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 6 pm.

You can see the official notice of the event under the Programs page of the website for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (www.lacma.org).

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