After months of anticipation, violinist Catherine Leonard bade farewell to Camerata Pacifica on Friday night, vacating The Bob Christensen Chair in Violin and ending her eight year tenure as principal, but not before demonstrating yet again her exemplary ensemble playing. The finale for the evening, Antonin Dvorak’s Quintet for Piano and Strings No. 2 in A Major, seemed the ideal adieu, covering vast and varied terrains, and demonstrating the intelligence, emotion and adeptness that Leonard has come to stand for.
At the same time, Friday night demonstrated that Camerata continues to extend opportunities to musicians, composers and students alike. An unscheduled performance by twenty-four young string players of the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown L.A. began the evening with a delightful surprise, and a visceral reminder of the importance of arts education. For three years Camerata’s outreach has provided a teaching residency at the school, that includes guest admission of the students at their Zipper Hall performances.
The concert also included a promising debut by Irish mezzo-soprano Kate Allen. Music Academy of the West patrons will remember Allen’s voice and comic sensibility as Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress last summer. Antonín Gypsy Songs, Op. 55, for voice and piano, seemed the ideal vehicle for spotlighting Allen’s bright, strong voice, rich in overtones. Moments of penetrating volume set every cubic inch of Hahn Hall in sympathetic vibration. Warren Jones evidently took great delight in Dvořák’s supporting lines and fills.
The U.S. premiere of Ian Wilson’s Dreamgarden, for winds, strings and piano, proved adventurous, yet accessible tone painting, with enhanced leading edges by guest oboe master Nicholas Daniel. The fourth movement brought Allen back, singing a setting of a Seamus Heaney sonnet, wonderful in its combination of spoken language rhythm with haunting chromatics.