As she enters her 11th season as keyboardist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Joanne Pearce Martin remains almost giddily enthusiastic about her work. And why not?
She gets to perform in the acoustically and architecturally splendid Walt Disney Concert Hall, as well as the historic Hollywood Bowl. She enjoys the guidance and inspiration of dynamic music director Gustavo Dudamel.
And then there’s the fact that from one week to the next—or even within the same concert—she is called upon to play music of different styles, from different eras, on different instruments. Who has time to be blasé?
“In the span of a few weeks this summer, I’ve played the harpsichord for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and blasted the organ on The Pines of Rome,” she said in a telephone interview. “There are surprises around every corner.”
“Complacency can never set in. If a violinist makes a mistake, somebody says, ‘I wonder who that was.’ But if there’s a keyboard mistake, there’s no doubt about it! So the job carries a bit of stress with it, but I like the excitement of the moment.”
Pearce Martin is best known in Santa Barbara as principal pianist for Camerata Pacifica during the chamber music ensemble’s first decade. She will return as a guest artist this weekend, when the group opens its 2011-12 season with two performances in Hahn Hall and another in Ventura.
“I’m very, very happy to play with Camerata Pacifica again,” she said. “Adrian [Spence, the founder and artistic director] is an amazing force. I love his approach. I like the fact he strips away some of the elitist attitude that scares people away from classical music.”
Pearce Martin will open the concert with a solo performance of Rachmaninoff’s famous Prelude in C-sharp Minor. She will then join fellow keyboardist Vicki Ray and four percussionists (including Ji Hye Jung, who dazzled audiences at last season’s opening concerts) for “Sextet” by American composer Steve Reich.
“It’s got great grooves!” she said of Reich’s work, on which she and Ray will play both piano and synthesizers. “It’s a minimalist experience. You get into a certain grove, and then something subtle changes. That said, listening to it and playing it are two different things. It’s a lot more complicated than some listeners may think. There’s some intricate rhythmic stuff going on between the instruments that maybe can’t be discerned on the first listen.”
Pearce Martin was onstage when CAMA brought the L.A. Phil to the Granada this past spring, but she won’t be present when the ensemble returns this October. The pieces on that program do not call for a keyboardist (aside from Yefim Bronfman, who will be the soloist in a Bartók piano concerto).
She has never calculated the percentage of Philharmonic programs she plays in, but says it easily exceeds half. “I probably work more than most [orchestral] full-time keyboardists, because the L.A. Phil has more adventurous programming than most,” she said. “Exciting, fresh and new—that’s what Californians expect! I think Esa-Pekka [Salonen, the former music director] kick-started that. One of his first sentences as music director was, ‘We are about the future.’”
“I’ve had a synthesizer on top of a celesta and keyed computer samples during modern pieces at the same time I’m playing celesta with the other hand,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing you don’t practice as a kid! For me, sitting at the piano will always be the most comfortable. With the other instruments, you bring your piano skills, and you have to add a few other skills, as well. Some of those are learned on the job, right in the moment, depending on what a piece calls for. Again, that keeps things fresh! Quite often, I’ll go in the hall and spend time on those instruments before rehearsing with the orchestra.”
Regarding Dudamel, Pearce Martin says the picture the public gets of him—high-spirited, engaging, not weighed down by a big ego—is accurate but incomplete.
“He knows exactly what he wants,” she said. “It’s not all fun and games—he cracks down on us. He will attack a certain problem in rehearsal and not move on until it’s right. Right before the first concert [of a set], he’ll often give a very short speech in which he essentially says, ‘We’ve done all this work. Now let’s just enjoy the music, and communicate the music to the audience.’”
“Working with him is enjoyable, whether he’s being ultra-critical or just silly. He’s so physically gifted. The way he can convey something with just one gesture, or even one eyebrow, is just incredible! And he’s a terrific musician. He plays the violin extremely well. His mind is so sharp. We all have such a great rapport with him. Who wouldn’t?”
Camerata Pacifica performs Friday, September 16, at 1 and 7:30 p.m. at Hahn Hall (Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Rd.). Tickets are $22-$45; student rush tickets are $10. Call 884-8410 or see cameratapacifica.org. The Los Angeles Philharmonic performs Sunday, October 16, at 4 p.m. at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Tickets are $40-$120. Call 899-2222 or see camasb.org.