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Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s Ostinato: Mixing New and Old

July 22, 2019

For musicians in pursuit of the new, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble is turning mature, at least in years — it was founded in 1992 — but it maintains its youthful attitude in mixing premieres with classics.

In the announcement for LCCE’s 2019–2020 season, there is the “new” in every single concert, including a world premiere or even two at each, including works by Karen Tanaka, John Schott, Jamie Leigh Sampson, (LCCE co-founder) Kurt Rohde, Carl Schimmel, Sarah Gibson, and Josiah Catalan, as well as a new micro-opera by Hiroya Miura.

The concert season opens with “Changing and Unchanging Things,” Oct. 5 (SF Conservatory of Music) and Oct. 6 (Hillside Club, Berkeley), featuring works in the intersection of Japanese culture and Western classical music, including premieres of a chamber work by Tanaka and Miura’s micro-opera Sharaku Unframed, whose scoring includes a shamisen, which will be played by Hidejiro Honjoh.

“This is an exciting pairing for our season opener,” says LCCE Artistic Director Anna Presler. “Miura’s piece explores the mysteries surrounding 18th-century Japanese woodblock artist Toshusai Sharaku, and Tanaka’s Wind Whisperer is inspired by the Asian Art Museum’s “Changing and Unchanging Things” exhibit, about artists who explored intersections of Japanese and Western visual art.”

A special salon event and preview with UC Berkeley scholar Elizabeth Berry and the composers and musicians will be held at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum on Oct. 5 at 1 p.m.

The program also includes Dai Fukijura’s Neo and Debussy’s Trio for Flute, Viola, Harp.

“Air from Other Planets,” Nov. 2 and 4, includes Schoenberg’s groundbreaking Second String Quartet, Mozart’s C Major String Quartet, K. 465; and newly commissioned pieces from Jamie Leigh Sampson and John Schott.

“French Sublime,” Feb. 2 and 3, 2020, celebrates the music of Nadia Boulanger and Debussy, adding Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and One Wing, a new work from Rohde, reflecting on Messiaen’s enduring influence. Rohde described his piece to SFCV:

In some manner, I am going to make a connection between my new piece and the role of L’Ange in Messiaen’s Saint Francois d'Assise. Specifically, [the scene] when the Angel visits St. Francis in Act II and tells him of the transformed, ecstatic state that exists in the higher realms will be central to the concept of my piece.

I don’t know how this all adds up, but I do remember that when I heard Saint Francois d'Assise here in SF back about 15 years ago (I saw it twice — it was brutal, but oddly amazing), that Angel music and its staging — with the one-winged angel floating — was profound, moving, deeply simple, and far beyond what I imagined possible in that type of opera.

A preview panel discussion about Messiaen with Professors Scott MacDougall and Jonathan Sheehan with Left Coast musicians, will be held on Jan. 31 at 5 p.m., in Berkeley’s Doug Adams Gallery.

"Fairytale Pieces" (March 8 and 9) brings storytelling and music together, with Schumann’s Fairytale Pieces for viola and piano, Chris Castro’s musical rendition of myths about Coyote and Old Man Farmer, and Carl Schimmel’s world premiere, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut––a topsy-turvy Little Red Riding Hood for the 21st century.

The final concert of the season, “Living in Color” (May 31 and June 1) dives into music rich with imagery, featuring Sarah Gibson’s I Prefer Living in Color, winner of Left Coast’s 20th-annual composition contest. Gabriella Smith’s Anthrozoa depicts the vibrant life among the coral reefs, and Brahms’s Violin Sonata in G evokes the rain. Josiah Catalan’s companion work to the Brahms, a world premiere, ties together new and old.

Tickets for individual LCCE concerts are $35 general admission and $18 for students and those under age 35. Season ticket subscriptions are also available for the five-concert series, at $125/general, $105/seniors, and $50/under 35.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].