Saturday, May 19, 2012

concert review: Music at the Mission

This was advertised as a concert of chamber music by composers also known for their film scores, accompanied by clips from their movies. Intrigued at this unusual idea, I suggested to my editor that we review it. He didn't think there was anything unusual about it; apparently orchestras do film-music programs all the time. Perhaps in their summer pops seasons, since I never see them; the only orchestral-film amalgam I've attended was an occasion about a decade ago when the San Francisco Symphony played a score cobbled together out of bleeding chunks from Shostakovich symphonies to accompany a screening of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin.

What interested my editor was the cluster of locally prominent musicians gathered together to play it. It was I who thought there was nothing unusual about that. Most of them have played in the "Music at the Mission" series before, and I've even reviewed them. And with series artistic co-director, and mastermind of this concert, Bill Everett being a member of Symphony Silicon Valley, it was no surprise finding a couple of his colleagues from that orchestra here. Anyway, I declined the opportunity to write a piece on the musicians' professional lives, which is really way out of my territory, and because I thought there was no story in it, and attended on my own.

What was advertised is not quite what we got. Concert chamber works by four composers, yes, each paired with excerpts, arranged for chamber ensemble, from their music for one film each they're particularly known for. Since three of those films are sound films, don't wonder how the screenings fit in: they didn't have any. The only clip screened was the Odessa Steps sequence from Potemkin, accompanied by the corresponding excerpt from the Shostakovich amalgam - I recognized them as bits from his Tenth, Eleventh, and Fifth symphonies - with their loud, towering orchestrations cut down to chamber ensemble size. The shoe pinched a bit.

Actually, that was the second try. The first one faltered when, everything having been set up, and the musicians getting the click track in their earpieces, they stopped when they noticed that the movie wasn't playing on the screen set up behind them. There's no excuse for not getting all this set up properly at the tech rehearsal.

Shostakovich's concert piece was the String Quartet No. 8. True, the intonation was not always stable and the rhythms rather soggy. (Both got better as the piece went on.) And the acoustics resembled the interior of a toilet bowl. But this was a committed, impassioned performance that was thrilling to listen to. Violist Emily Onderdonk was best at keeping the rhythm taut, cellist Michael Graham gave strong solos at perilously high pitches, and it was great to hear Robin Mayforth and Karen Shinozaki interpret the violin parts.

A string quintet played a suite from Bernard Herrmann's music to Psycho to a series of stills from the movie, and yes, the slashing sounds matched the stills from the shower scene. His concert music was a movement from his clarinet quintet (Michael Corner, cl.), Souvenirs de Voyage.

The other two composers didn't even get that much, only projections of poster cards from the movies. A couple romantic melodies from Nino Rota's music for The Godfather and his trio for clarinet, cello, and piano (Aileen Chanco, pf), whose slow movement in particular sounds right from the movie. And a lusty suite from Korngold's Adventures of Robin Hood, paired with a really vigorous reading of his hefty, and much earlier, Quintet for Piano and Strings.

Also today, to the "Boogie on the Bayou" street festival in downtown Campbell, mostly for the Louisiana food booths that only make an appearance here. If you go on Sunday, which I recommend (I'll be elsewhere), the best food booth is the one that sells étouffée and blackened shrimp along with other stuff, on North Central. I had their seafood gumbo and it was superb, and not too expensive. The jambalaya at the booth that also sells alligator-on-a-stick on South First (the identical-looking one on North First is much inferior) was also good. That's where they are this year; last year they were all in different spots, and will probably be so again next year.

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