If you were at last night’s UCSB University Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Players’ concert, then you know what I’m talking about when I titled this post, “Whew!” The program packed a punch for player and audience alike with an often frantic pace and challenging complexity.

Robert Koenig, as the Director of the Chamber Players, once again showed his savvy in matching players to pieces.  It’s our first big concert of the year, and we have many new freshman and transfer students on our Lotte Lehmann stage.

The show opened with Molly on the Shore, a Percy Aldridge Grainger piece. I did a little research on Grainger, and I’d like to do more because he sounds like quite the character, simultaneously engaging and repelling.  If what I’ve read is true, he was not the most politically correct composer, in fact, some would consider him “merely” a glorified arranger.  This could be said of Molly at the Shore with its mingled Irish reels but for the genuinely unique result — a melody that twists, interrupting itself oddly.  In my opinion, the key to interpreting this piece is that it must remain at all costs, danceable. This is a piece I would like to hear again because “You just can’t have too many clarinets!” as my middle school band teacher, Cynthia Snyder, was fond of saying.

The second chamber group to perform was our Young Artist Piano Quartet. They played the Brahms Quartet in G Minor which I had heard earlier in the week in Geiringer Hall during a master class with Sunny Yang of the Kronos Quartet. I wrote about it here. I can honestly say that Brahms sounds much better in the larger Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.

The last of the UCSB Chamber Players treated us to Ferenc Farkas’ Early Hungarian Dances. Individual dances in each of five short movements build the intensity.  Each player was given an opportunity to showcase his or her skills, reminding all of us that matching players with pieces is probably an extremely challenging task.  Flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon are warmly suited to bring us these fireside dances that defy the encroaching winter.

After a brief intermission, the Chamber Orchestra took the stage. I’m  a little biased here because I was sitting up there in front of a section of violins, but I think our Overture to Candide was very well received. Then, as the strings took over, playing Mozart’s Salzburg Symphony No. 2, I felt the audience tighten their attention, hopefully appreciating our nuances and even bowing.

Then it was time to regroup with our woodwinds, percussion, and brass to play Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major. I’ll be honest, it is a complex piece by any measure. A violinist burns about 170 calories per hour if you trust a consensus of random web sites. Last night, I’m estimating that number was closer to 300.  “A lesser orchestra might have crumbled”, I whisper to myself.

The piece is sometimes described as “pastoral”.  I guess that’s true if the cows are blowing around in a fifty mile-per-hour gale and the grass has been trampled twice over.  Or maybe we just played it a little faster than most, you know, because we can.

It’s a shame that our attendance was a little lower than usual —  I think maybe Thanksgiving is coming too fast this year and people are busy.  Speaking of thanks, Karen Yeh and Brent Wilson have done an admirable job bringing our newest students into the fold.  I’m looking forward to great things for our winter and spring concerts.

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