By Ted AYALA
Georges Bizet’s jewel-like Jeux des enfants (Children’s Games) made up the major work on the first half of Calico Winds’ concert on Saturday night, June 4 at Boston Court in Pasadena.
Calico Winds – comprising of flautist Eileen Hold Helwig, clarinetist Kathryn Nevin, oboist David Kossoff, bassoonist Therese Treuenfels, and French hornist Rachel Berry – engaged in much child-like play themselves in a frothy program of wind pieces that evoked a sense of care-free humor and joy.
Local composer Adrienne Albert’s bright Sam’s Dance opened up the program. An arrangement for wind quintet commissioned by the Calicos, the work’s sunlit mood belies its composer’s somber inspiration.
Clarinetist Nevin explained to the audience that the music came to Albert in a “Chagall-like dream” in which she saw her recently deceased father dancing cheerfully in heaven, free of worries. A brief work, it earned its composer, who was in attendance, very warm applause.
The five movements from Bizet’s Jeux des enfants arranged for wind quintet that followed were closely based on the composer’s orchestral version. Bizet selected five movements from his original version for piano duet and made sparkling orchestrations that remain a model of the art of orchestration. But how easy it was to forget that version. The Calicos played with a piquancy and charm that nearly dispelled the memory of the full orchestral version.
Two works by composers better known for their film music were represented by their concert music. Lalo Schifrin – better known as the composer for films like “Dirty Harry” and television programs like “Mission: Impossible” – made an appearance via La Nouvelle Orleans, a work depicting a New Orleans-style funeral march and party.
La Nouvelle Orleans was curiously entertaining, but ultimately a misfire on the part of the composer.
If the listener was expecting an opportunity for Mahlerian grotesquerie, look elsewhere. Schifrin’s funeral march was closer to Gounod than to Mahler. La Nouvelle Orleans’ “party” coda was also curiously subdued. If that was indeed a “party,” it must’ve been one taking place in Salt Lake City because I heard no rowdy Mardi Gras bacchants there. Maybe the festivities were bartended by members of the Prohibition Party? The Calicos gave it their all, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the piece was a dud.
Not so the Piccola Offerta Musicale by fellow film composer Nino Rota. This miniature masterpiece, drenched in the Mediterranean sun and the influence of Les Six in equal parts, is one of Rota’s very finest concert works. Rota’s joyous music blossomed radiantly in the Calico’s interpretation.
Opus Number Zoo, a work by Rota’s younger countryman Luciano Berio, was also heard. The sometimes severe master of such mid 20th Century high modernist works like the Sinfonia and the Sequenza pieces was nowhere to be found here. Berio’s bubbly music looked back on neo-classicists like Jean Françaix and Paul Hindemith. Blended with the music in a manner similar to William Walton’s Façade was spoken word poetry by Rhoda Levine. The deliberately childish poetry, which the composer has the musicians declaim in a rhythmic patter, presents the lives of different animals that shine a light on humanity’s folly. A clever idea – but made nearly unbearable by Levine’s embarrassingly insipid poetry. What Berio saw in her writing eludes my grasp. Levine’s trite and obnoxiously smug lyrics with their elephantine obviousness of gesture pretty much destroyed whatever enjoyment could be had from Berio’s music. However, the Calicos performed the music with total commitment and, despite the misgivings of this critic, their efforts were applauded very warmly by the audience.
A snazzy little encore by way of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” closed out the evening. Top and tailed by the pert piccolo of flautist Helwig, Sousa’s march brought the Calico’s evening to a sparkling, fireworks finish.