Camarada, San Diego’s intrepid chamber ensemble, returned to UC San Diego Park & Market Saturday for an engaging concert that included the premiere of their commissioned work from Stefan Cwik, Sunstone—in search of time. Artistic Director Beth Ross Buckley crafted a winning program around a Latin American theme: compositions by Alberto Ginastera and Heitor Villa-Lobos leading up to Cwik’s commissioned work, which was inspired by the poetry of Mexican poet Octavio Paz and by traditional Aztec and Mayan music.The effervescent charm of Villa-Lobos’ 1913 Pequeña Suite for cello and piano combined with the panache of cellist Lars Hoefs and pianist Dana Burnett made this offering stand out even on this unequivocally audience-friendly program. Like Maurice Ravel’s 1917 piano solo Le tombeau de Couperin, the Pequeña Suite is structured as a neoclassical multi movement dance suite that retains the gracious, shapely melodic lines of 19th-century Romantic music. And this Villa-Lobos work remains thankfully free of that wrong-note harmonic obsession that spawned so much of the neoclassical output of Stravinsky and Hindemith between World War I and II.
In the Suite’s slow movements, Hoefs’ sonorous, dreamy cello line could have melted the hardest heart, yet both Hoefs and Burnett traversed the rollicking lines of the “Fugato” movement and the “Gavotte-Scherzo” finale with an impassioned yet highly disciplined drive grounded in their impeccable ensemble.
Ginastera’s 1934 Impresiones de la Puna, an early work for flute and string quartet the composer finished even before starting his formal conservatory studies, reveals both an Impressionist harmonic palette and the composer’s attraction to his country’s indigenous music. The slowly changing diaphanous chords in the opening movement suggest the Puna–a bleak, rocky wasteland high in the northern Andes that was the heart of the old Inca empire–and the languid flute solo played with such allure by Beth Ross Buckley imitates the primitive cane flute used by the tribes of this region.
Most of the time, the strings merely supported Ginastera’s engaging solo flute excursions, especially in work’s relaxed middle movement “Cancíon,” which evokes ancient folk songs. But in the final movement “Danza,” first violinist David Buckley and Beth Ross Buckley exchanged animated themes and countermelodies with playful delight.
Cwik’s Sunstone, a 30-minute, five-movement tone poem for strings, flute and piano, is clearly a major contribution to the contemporary chamber music repertory. Like the Latin American composers featured on this program, Cwik does not stray far from conventional tonality, yet his radiant melodic invention combined with imaginative voicing and instrumentation captivates the listener. Since Camarata commissioned Sunstone, it is hardly surprising that Cwik has lavished profuse flute solos throughout the work, from the haunting low incantation of the alto flute in the opening “An offering to the four directions” to the lively dialogue of flute and piano in the second movement Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli–the morning star,” and the elegaic flute benediction in “Appearance of Mictécacihãtle–Lady of the dead.” Vibrant collusion of the piano and upper strings suggests a kind of victory march in the next movement, “Appearance of Quetzacoatle–Creator,” and all of the voices shimmer a comforting benediction in the “Epilogue–Arriving Forever.”
The musicians performing Cwik’s commissioned Sunstone: flutist Beth Ross Buckley; violinists David Buckley and Angela Xing; violist Travis Maril; cellist Lars Hoefs; double bassist Mackenzie Leighton, and pianist Dana Burnett.Artist Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio was commissioned to paint a large work inspired by Cwik’s music, and the painting “Forever Arriving” was displayed adjacent to the musicians in the generous Park & Market performance space. The room’s immense digital screen was also put to use to show Hugo Crosthwaite’s animated portrait of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the noted scientist and immunologist who served as chief medical advisor to the President from 2021 to 2022. This commission from the Washington, D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery was Crosthwaite’s counterproposal to the Portrait Gallery’s request for an oil painting of Dr. Fauci.
This performance titled “In Search of Time” was presented by Camarata at UC San Diego’s Park & Market facility in downtown San Diego’s East Village on Saturday, January 20, 2024.