This season, the chamber music group known as Camerata Pacifica has spread its wings by including Zipper Hall on its list of Southern California venues. . Based in Santa Barbara but peopled by fine Los Angeles musicians, the group helps fill the void for chamber music programming locally, covering a range of repertoire, from traditional to easy-does-it contemporary work.
Founder Adrian Spence is a flutist with a gift for gab, and he freely demonstrates both talents onstage -- sometimes to a fault, for those who believe in the less-said-the-better approach. Saturday, Spence's flowing preliminary comments seemed aimed at softening the presumed blow of a 20th century program.
He needn't have worried. In a concert where two Russians -- Schnittke and Shostakovich -- framed a great American composer still awaiting credit due --William Bolcom -- the concert went easy on "difficult" listening.
The highlight came early, and in a surprising, compact package, with Schnittke's short but intriguing "Stille Nacht for Violin and Strings," played by violinist Benny Kim and the Los Angeles Philharmonic pianist Joanne Pearce Martin. Schnittke deconstructs and playfully sullies the Christmas chestnut. What initially plays like sardonic satire expands into a haunting study of the vicissitudes of listening, addressing and undoing our sentimental sense of ownership for classic melodies.
Bolcom's engaging and uncompromising Quartet for Piano and Strings, circa 1976, was played with an intense focus by Martin, Kim, violist Donald McInnes and cellist Eric Kim. Built through the composer's typical melding of dark and light musical flavors, this piece leans into the fiercer end of the tonal spectrum and instrumental gestures. Then comes the weirdly sweet gospel-waltz Intermezzo, its arrival making for the piece's joy-buzzer "Bolcom moment."
Martin and Kim returned for the largely melodic, post-romantic turf of Shostakovich's Sonata for Cello and String in D Minor, Opus 40, written in 1934, before the composer's Modernist muse fully shook him awake. Zipper Hall is a fine new home for Spence and company. Now perhaps they can expand the program notes and reduce the onstage chatter factor.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Huntington Library
Information: www.cameratapacifica.org or (800) 557-2224