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A taste of the Carlsbad Music Festival -- in forward and reverse

September 26, 2007|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

For busy or traffic-weary Angelenos who can't make the trek down the coast to the Carlsbad Music Festival this week, the festival came to them in the form of a "sampler" at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall on Monday night.

Indeed, the 2 1/2 -hour mini-marathon resembled some of the best CD samplers because it contained previews of pieces that will be performed in Carlsbad and extras that won't. It was cannily organized in the shape of a palindrome, with So Percussion leading off and closing the evening, the Calder Quartet -- the Colburn's new quartet-in-residence -- taking the second and fifth spots and Real Quiet surrounding the intermission.

Better yet, all this care was in service of a marvelously enlightening program, one rooted in the early history of Minimalism that followed where some of its branches are headed.

The Calders -- now an even more self-confident, polished powerhouse of a group than ever -- produced a warm, beautiful amplified string tone in the second movement of festival founder-director Matt McBane's "Ghost in the Machine" that the composer manipulated electronically with delicacy and restraint. The foursome then found considerable subtly shaded expressive depth in Philip Glass' "Company," his String Quartet No. 2, a concise, eight-minute distillation of the essence of Glass' style as of 1984. Ryan Carter's "grip" veered, vibrated and slithered about, shaking with instability yet ultimately smoothing over its conflicts. None of these pieces, by the way, will be heard in Carlsbad.

The ironically named Real Quiet -- consisting of La Jolla Summerfest fixture Felix Fan on cello, pianist Andrew Russo and percussionist David Cossin -- offered a straight preview of its Carlsbad concert. Phil Kline's "The Last Buffalo" was an elegy for Hunter S. Thompson, with two heartfelt threnodies surrounding a celebration of the iconoclastic writer's aggression in the form of a hammered toccata for brake drums, cello and piano.

Annie Gosfield's temperamental "Wild Pitch," featuring busy, intricate percussion solos, was allegedly inspired by the one-sided 2004 World Series. Real Quiet also worked out in a neat, jazz-like, Minimalist groove on another McBane excerpt, the third movement of "Swelter."

So Percussion launched the evening with swatches from "Amid the Noise" (the group's Jason Treuting gets composer credit), where basically they find repetitive patterns with unusual timbres and ruminate for short spans of time. A complete performance of Steve Reich's hard-core phasing masterpiece "Drumming" would have been way too much at the end of a long concert, so the abbreviated Part One gave us a sensible idea of the group's whacking, propulsive conception. Check out So Percussion's excellent CD for the whole enchilada.

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