Viennese Sampler, Beethoven-grounded
Camerata Pacifica continues its two season-long “Why Beethoven?” project, tonight at Hahn Hall, with a tribute to music of famed Viennese composers—also including Mozart, Schubert and Brahms.
When: 7:30 p.m., tonight
Where: Hahn Hall, Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Rd.
Tickets are $58, $12 student rush, subscriptions range from $219 to $522.
Information: 805-884-8410, 800-557-BACH (2224), www.cameratapacifica.org
Camerata Pacifica is doing more than its fair share of tending the business of Beethoven this season. A certain seismic Beethoven-mania can reasonably be expected when the 2019-20 classical music celebrates the great German composer’s 250th birthday. He was born in Bonn, Germany on December 17, 1770.
For the first of its two-season homage to Ludwig—generally dubbed the “Why Beethoven?” series–the Camerata has wisely paced and planned its agenda, giving each concert a context or theme. Tonight at Hahn Hall, as part of the penultimate sweep of concerts this season (also performing at venues in Los Angeles, San Marino and Ventura this week), the group’s thematic focus addresses a specific cultural GPS: music from Vienna, Beethoven’s final home and an unrivaled musical hotbed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Vienna’s reputation as an epicenter of classical music history is well-secured by the composers on tonight’s bill, with music spanning a century. Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, is the oldest piece on the bill, from 1785, Schubert’s String Trio in B-flat, D. 471 dates from 1816, and Brahms’ high Romantic-era opus Sonata in A for Violin & Piano, Opus 100 premiered in 1886. That date wouldn’t be much later but a world away from Vienna’s radically different, Modernist “Second Viennese School,” of tone row composers Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. That was an entirely new and different story.
As for the Beethoven piece of the program, his String Trio in F, Opus 9, No. 1, was written in 1797-98, not longer after he left his native city of Bonn for Vienna, as a prodigious 22-year-old ready to take on the musical world. Which he did. His Opus 9, written as a twentysomething, was still steeped in the juices of Haydn’s deep influence, before the “real” Beethoven had blossomed and challenged the status quo. But its power is undeniable.
The performers for this edition of the Camerata are violinist Paul Huang, violist Paul Coletti, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, and pianist Warren Jones.
At the beginning of the current season, Camerata founder and flutist Adrian Spence quite naturally had much to say about the composer of the season(s). “Beethoven’s career ran smack bang into the emergence of the Romantic Period and he became the poster child,” Mr. Spence commented. “His music of that time, that has become known as his ‘heroic’ period, the notion of the self-determinate tortured genius triumphing over adversity, which included his deafness — this all played into the Romantic identification, and in a short time Beethoven himself became the archetype of the Romantic hero. The branding was perfect.
“This is post-Enlightenment, post-Revolution, Napoleon, Kant, Goethe and Hegel time. The foundation of many of today’s social & governmental systems began then. So too how we receive the music we hear today: the canonization of composers and repertoire, the reverence for certain pieces and the sanctity of the concert hall as temple, the idea of ‘serious’ music. This is all from that time. How we hear music today is through the (aural) lens of Beethoven and, indeed, that’s how we hear music that preceded him.
“Is Beethoven, at least partly, responsible for the stultification of the modern concert environment we saw at the end of the 20th century? That’s a question worth asking.”
Stultification is seemingly not in Camerata Pacifica’s operational vocabulary. Since forming in 1990, the ensemble has grown broader and deeper in its mission and expanded from its Santa Barbara home base to a monthly set of four concerts during its season. Houses are often full, and the audiences—diehard classical fans rubbing elbows with curious newcomers to the classical fold—eagerly soak up programming which veers from romantic mainstays to contemporary, and sometimes newly-commissioned work.
Somehow, through persistence, high caliber performances and programming and some game marketing over the group’s nearly 30 years in action, Mr. Spence’s brave endeavor has become one of Santa Barbara’s homegrown success stories.
When asked if there have been key factors in making the Camerata Pacifica brand more accessible to a wider audience base, Mr. Spence asserted, “it has been part of our mission from the start ‘to affect positively how people experience classical music.’ ‘Accessible,’ though, is a bit of a trigger word to me. I find it most often means, ‘we’re going to attract people who don’t really want to listen to classical music by compromising and diluting what we do to make it simpler.’
“Classical music is not simple. It represents a pinnacle of human achievement and requires effort and attention to appreciate it. This is something we should be proud of, not apologize for and I certainly am not an apologist. I don’t plan on reducing the amount of effort required, in fact at Camerata Pacifica perhaps we expect it more of it.”
Come May’s season finale, stopping at Hahn Hall on May 17, the subject—and question—of Beethoven arrives in the season’s first all-Beethoven evening, including the wondrous Calder String Quartet performing the late quartet No. 130 and songs, sung by baritone Andrew Garland. When it comes to Camerata’s current musical question, “Why Beethoven,?” they continue to mean business.