It's a bromide that the present colors perception of the past. But that's what happened at the Camerata Pacifica concert Wednesday at Zipper Concert Hall at the downtown Colburn School of Performing Arts. And it was illuminating.
The program proceeded roughly backward in chronology, opening with music by Toru Takemitsu, George Crumb and Mark-Antony Turnage and ending with works by Debussy and Beethoven. By the time we got to the earlier composers, we were hearing with refreshed ears, alert to their connections with the music of today and more sensitive to their unique, nuanced use of sound.
Takemitsu's "Rain Spell" (composed in 1963) and Crumb's "Eleven Echoes of Autumn" (1966) both work through now-familiar "new music" techniques (prepared piano or other unorthodox methods, such as playing violin strings near the tuning pegs) and through rejection of the traditional sonata structure of conflict, climax and resolution. Instead, they evoke a special sort of sound space in which events occur as they might in the natural world.
Takemitsu's landscape is one of fluid tranquillity. Sounds emerge from silence, reverberate, blend, evaporate. There are moments of playfulness, of very complex rhythms, but overall a focused meditation prevails. It draws in the listener. The players were Camerata founder Adrian Spence (flute), Carol McGonnell (clarinet), Marcia Dickstein (harp), Robert Thies (piano) and Doug Perkins (vibraphone).
Crumb's landscape is drier, more desolate, even tragic. It is generated by a rhythmic bell motif struck deep in the piano and echoed faintly in the silvered heights of the violin.
According to the composer, the structure is arch-like and associated with a quote from Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca that translates as "... and the broken arches where time suffers." The piece was played with intensity by Spence, McGonnell, Thies and violinist Catherine Leonard.
Thies had the marathon duties of the night, also playing Turnage's two-minute solo, "Tune for Toru," an affectionate 1995 tribute to Takemitsu, who died the following year, and accompanying Leonard in Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano (his final work) and Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata.
For all its excursions into boulevard wit, in its diaphanous textures Debussy's Sonata sounded particularly connected to the music of the East that we know influenced him.
Even mighty Beethoven, here in one of his most gorgeous, F-major nature moods, seemed lighter, more congenial than usual.
Such impressions can be among the benefits of looking backward. Leonard and Thies played solidly.
Where: Lehmann Hall, Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road, Santa Barbara
When: 8 tonight
Price: $155 (series subscription only)
Contact: (800) 557-2224 or www.cameratapacifica.org
Where: Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday