The California E.A.R. Unit has built a reputation for its proficiency in difficult avant-garde music and absurdist theater. Wednesday night in Bing Theater at the County Museum of Art, the ensemble showcased five works melding the two disciplines, but favoring the thespian side of their talents.
The West Coast premiere of Donald Martino's "From the Other Side" for flute, cello, piano and percussion, proved a pleasantly surprising departure from the composer's previous, strictly 12-tone work. The meticulously wrought score included weighty passages of expressionist, atonal writing but also frequent Romantic melodies, jazz licks and irreverent shoutings.
The last movement, "Das magische Kabarett des Doktor Schonberg," reconstructed a risque Viennese cabaret on stage, complete with jazz orchestra and a sexy cocktail waitress who served wine. Cellist Erika Duke donned a jacket and cap, impersonating Schoenberg from his youthful days as a cabaret musician.
Overall, Duke, flutist Dorothy Stone, pianist Gaylord Mowrey and percussionist Amy Knoles approached Martino's music, as well as the theatrical elements, with intelligence and aptness.