Camarada Celebrates Music by Gilad Cohen at the Mingei International Museum of Art

The San Diego chamber ensemble Camarada brought a lively, audience friendly chamber concert to the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park Thursday. The ensemble’s program featured two works by visiting guest composer Gilad Cohen, who gave a short talk before the concert and introduced his compositions “Post Winter Solstice” and “Dances of Peril.” Princeton educated Cohen is Associate Professor of Music at New Jersey’s Rampo College.

(l. to r.) Dana Burnett, Frank Renk, Abe Liebhaber, Beth Ross Buckley & David Buckley [photo courtesy of Camarada]

This was not Cohen’s first visit with Camarada, and I recall a Camarada performance of his “Three Goat Blues” in La Jolla last fall that displayed a sophisticated post modernist style that could fuse humor and traditional blues with surprising ease. Clearly a more probing work, his “Post Winter Solstice” for flute, bass clarinet, violin and cello created an austere yet inviting tone poem. Bass clarinetist Frank Renk opened the piece with a dark, searching solo that was quickly taken over and expanded by flutist Beth Ross Buckley. Although the winds dominated this score with their animated themes, violinist David Buckley and cellist Abe Liebhaber provided beautifully focused counterpoint that supported the winds, and Liebhaber’s sharp pizzicato attacks and occasional hand percussion on the body of his instrument added to the sonic texture.

In Cohen’s first “Dance of Peril,” subtitled ”Tense”, Renk changed to the familiar B-flat clarinet and was joined by violinist David Buckley and cellist Abe Liebhaber. Renk’s propulsive, sonorous clarinet themes and articulate ostinatos dominated this work, although David Buckley’s athletic solos and a bold cadenza proved equally compelling. In the second “Dance of Peril,” subtitled “Wild,” the strings took a more commanding lead as the the clarinet suggested traditional klezmer motifs and phrasing. Gilad’s ability to subtly modulate between widely contrasting tempos keeps his fluid style consistently engaging.

Camarada opened its program with the Trio for Flute Violin and Piano by Nino Rota, the prolific Italian composer universally recognized for his award-winning scores to the Godfather films. His 1958 Trio demonstrates his equal mastery of classical post-modernist composition, although he did not succumb to the dictates of the 12-tone or Second Viennese School that the avant-garde European composers of that era, e.g. Pierre Boulez, followed. Not surprisingly, their music survives only in the lecture halls of university music history courses.

Pianist Dana Burnett, flutist Beth Ross Buckley, and violinist David Buckley delivered the blistering counterpoint of the Trio’s outer movements with their customary panache and sharp focus. Particularly attractive were the haunting flute solo at the center of the opening movement and the serpentine canon between the flute and violin in the quieter, rhapsodic middle movement.

Fulfilling the concert’s title Soundtrax, the program’s second half was devoted to a cornucopia of motion picture and video game themes including Michel Legrand’s nostalgic “The Summer Knows” from The Summer of 1942 to John Williams’ “Victors Theme” from The Terminal, to Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso” from the film of the same title, and Yuka Kitamura’s “Eldon Ring” from her video game in an arrangement by Jonathan Shaw.

This concert presented by Camarada on May 2, 2024, took place in the auditorium at Balboa Park’s Mingei International Museum of Art.

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