ACP: Glass, Gresham, Debussy, & Ravel

After feeling under the weather for much of the day, I managed to feel more like myself this evening by the time that I went to the Atlanta Chamber Players concert at the New American Shakespeare Tavern. Not that I’m glad that I didn’t feel well enough to go into work this morning, but it was great going to a weeknight concert without being drained by traffic.

Despite having a ticket to sit on the floor, I decided that I’d be better seated in the balcony. The problem with the New American Shakespeare Tavern, which is also one of it’s boons, is that it’s also a restaurant so the floor and box seats are all tables and they are usually filled by the people who are going to be eating there a good hour before a show starts. The empty seats that remained by the time that I arrived were all at awkward angles or behind where the cellists would be sitting, which wouldn’t serve me terribly well when compared with a seat in the center of the balcony. It’s such an intimate venue that even the balcony seats give a good, personal perspective of the stage and I consider the price for the floor seat a very reasonable price for the concert in any seat and have no problem with either ACP or the New American Shakespeare Tavern making a few extra bucks off of me.

The first piece that they played was Philip Glass’ String Quartet no 5. It started a little on the rough side but they found their groove soon enough. Kim, in the first violin’s seat, was getting a rather rough sound from her violin, but it was tolerable at the speed that they were playing. Ritchie stood out on cello and Lynn did an excellent job on the viola. I often feel, perhaps inaccurately, that you can identify Glass’ pieces as easily from isolated scores for the deeper pitched instruments as you can from the traditional lead instruments, so having a strong cello and viola made up for any weaknesses in the violins well enough to keep the piece absolutely enjoyable for me.

I remarked to the person sitting next to me that I felt bad for Gresham for having the premier of his piece immediately after the Glass. VocalEasy was commissioned by clarinetist Ardan along with ACP for clarinet, piano, and wordless voice. The performance was great: McPhail has a really full voice that was an absolute joy to hear, Pridgen did no wrong on the piano, and Ardan was great on the clarinet. The piece itself, though, seemed a bit hacked together and didn’t seem to have anywhere to go. It began with a habenera on the piano, played with some latin dances and bounced around some jazzy sounding parts without really ever seeming to commit to anything or giving us a reason for any of it. It wasn’t bad to listen to the piece, mind you, but I won’t really remember it tomorrow. The program states that each of the three parts of the trio was supposed to be equal, and I think that he did manage that, but it struck me that if you were to take just the clarinet and piano or just the clarinet and voice that you’d still have the essence of the same piece.

After intermission, the program was devoted to impressionists. Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsodie was an absolute treat as played by Ardan and Pridgen. Ardan really seemed to own the piece as she comfortably wandered the stage with her clarinet. Pridgen managed to really hold my ear, though, as she proved to be more than mere accompaniment. She really brought a great deal of character to the piece through the piano part, which really filled out the piece incredibly well without ever overshadowing Ardan’s clarinet.

The final piece was a fantastic performance of Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. Albers is an amazing cellist and Schwartz Moretti is a delight on the violin. Again, Pridgen did a great job on the piano. The performance was incredibly engrossing and the musicians managed to really draw the audience in. Aside from being an exciting conclusion to the concert, the piece did a great job of drawing the three 20th century pieces played that evening together into a coherent program of music that proved to be a truly grand finale for the ACP season.

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