Cactus Pear Music Festival
Speed's the thing in new works by Timothy Kramer and Colin
July 18, 2010
In its 14th season the Cactus
Pear Music Festival unveiled two new works by San Antonio composers,
along with its usual blend of standard and less-familiar repertoire
from the past three centuries.
The festival also moved to a new venue in the suburbs, Coker United
Methodist Church, for its four San Antonio concerts. (Raging allergies
and a schedule conflict kept me from the first two.)
Timothy Kramer’s “Three Pairs” Suite for a mixed sextet was the
memorable centerpiece of the July 15 concert and also, alas, a
valedictory to the composer’s 19-year sojourn at Trinity University.
This fall he begins a new post as professor and chair of the music
department at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill.
Illinois is getting a gem. We have heard quite a lot (but not nearly
enough) of Kramer’s music during his time here, and all of it has been
superbly crafted and intriguingly complex. “Three Pairs” is one of his
The title refers to the pairwise instrumentation -- violin (Stephanie
Sant’Ambrogio) and cello (Fred Edelen), flute (Stephanie Jutt) and
clarinet (Ilya Shterenberg), piano (James Winn) and percussion (Sherry
Rubins). The title also alludes homonymically to the name of the
festival, which commissioned it. In spoken remarks before the
performance, Kramer said the festival’s eponymous succulent suggested
to him a musical style that would be a summery balance of sweet and
In the hearing, the prickly
predominated in Kramer’s highly active rhythms and his dense, richly
colored harmonies from the outskirts of the tonal tradition. The first
and last of its six movements build to wild, frenzied rides -- this is
not a summer of hammock naps in leafy glades but of hurricane winds and
sun-crazed brains. The third movement opens with scattered staccato
notes that coalesce into an obsessive clockwork pattern, which becomes
progressively addled and finally morphs into something like the
galloping of a runaway horse. The second movement’s title (”Nocturne")
and slow tempo suggest untroubled calm, but the music is more like an
elegy than a nocturne, and complex textures roil below the calm
Despite its casual name, “Three Pairs” is a work of high ambition and
serious purpose, but it is also directly appealing. The all-star
ensemble gave it a top-drawer performance.
Kramer’s piece was aptly, uh, paired on the first half with Erik
Satie’s bipolar “Pieces (3) in the Form of a Pear” for piano four
hands. Though Satie rejected traditional thematic development and the
Romantic weightiness that it enabled, the simplicity, clarity and
jocularity of his music mask a deeper seriousness and complexity. Both
aspects were well represented in the performance by Winn and Judith
The concert closed with a well-paced and beautifully played account of
Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 87. The players were
Stillman, Sant’Ambrogio, Edelen and violist Dmitri Pogorelov.
Cactus Pear’s other new piece
was presented during the otherwise-baroque closing concert of July 17.
Composer Colin Sorgi, a graduate student at Indiana University’s music
school, won a juried competition for a work to be played by the
festival’s eight young artists, an unusual ensemble of violins, violas
and cellos in pairs (of course) plus flute and clarinet. The event
turned out to be a reunion of sorts: Sorgi, son of festival education
director Craig Sorgi, had been recruited in 2008 to write a piece for
that year’s group of young artists, two of whom (violinist Eric Bowser
and violist Julian Tello Jr.) returned for the 2010 roster.
Sorgi’s “Velocity” lasts about five minutes and would make an ideal
soundtrack for a brisk (but not breakneck) morning run along the beach.
The harmonies are tonal and rather sweet, and the intricate, patterned
textures suggest the influence of John Adams -- but also possibly of
the baroque style. It’s an attractive work, challenging to play. It was
very ably performed by Teresa Villalobos (flute), Louis Coy (clarinet),
Bowser and Lauren Logan (violin), Tello and Nathan Dowling (viola), and
Jonathan Willing and Sydney ZumMallen (cello).
The main part of the program
included luxuriously played works by JS Bach (the famous Air from the
Orchestral Suite No. 3) and his sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann
Christian. Most interesting were Francois Couperin’s
“L’Apothéose de Corelli,” in which two violins and basso
continuo portray very fancifully composer Arcangelo Corelli’s ascent to
Heaven; and Corelli’s own Sonata in D Minor for flute and basso
continuo, a set of variations on the traditional tune “La Folia,” so we
could hear why Couperin made such a fuss about him.
Jutt displayed impressive speed and dexterity in Corelli’s variations,
and rich tone in everything she played. In the Couperin, Pogorelov,
switching to violin, neatly complemented Sant’Ambrogio’s warmth and
intensity with his narrower, cooler tone; both had a fine feel for the
baroque style. Harpsichordist Christina Edelen, playing a French-style
double-manual instrument by Gerald Self, was masterful and enterprising
as always throughout the evening. Fred Edelen’s work on cello was
consistently agile and gorgeous.