David Ramadanoff, former artistic director for the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra, conducts the group, comprised of artists from throughout the Bay Area who have formed personal and professional relationships with each other over the years.
“Only six of them have performed together with Vallejo,” said Kathleen Comalli Dillon, concertmaster, unofficial executive director and Vallejo Symphony alum, of the artists performing Sunday. “Some of our kids played soccer together.”
That doesn’t mean it’s a closed group, though, as Dillon was quick to emphasize: “We audition by small group performances.”
Sunday’s concert started off with a modern, sort of nouveau-classical piece, Dan Becker’s “Gridlock.” One audience member called the piece “frenetic,” an apt description of the abrasive and powerful work. Ramadanoff explained that it builds on a joyful theme, which I suppose I could agree with inasmuch as it is certainly not a somber sound. It feels rushed and loud, busy and abrupt.
“It’s not about a traffic jam,” Ramadanoff told the audience, and the sound is indeed not that kind of stressful. It is, rather, a purposeful noise, culminating with a bang that is not angry but victorious.
At a post-concert reception catered by friends of the ensemble, audience members were heard to say that the opening number was not their favorite.
“From the Mozart on, it was amazing,” one said. “They should stay with the more symphonic music,” declared another. And one audience member even went so far as to say, “I didn’t really care for that first piece.” The piece did, however, serve to complement the others, together making up a good sampling of the group’s diverse repertoire.
Oboist Ryan Zwahlen introduced the second selection, an excerpt from modern composer Doug Opel’s “Soul Settings: Triptych.” Part one, titled “The Soul in Paradise,” contains lyrics that are read rather than sung, as would be the poetry on which the musical work is based.
Zwahlen directed, played oboe and read the poetry for the piece, which tells of the composer’s vision of Paradise.
The piece is emotional, punctuated with banging by the violin and cello players for an African feel as the theme takes shape. It is alternately angry, confused and contemplative, unusual in form but ultimately satisfying to the ear. The music responds to the voice of the reader, as if the spoken words transitioned smoothly into their musical theme.
The piece left me wishing to hear more, if only so that my ear could become more accustomed to this new-fangled arrangement of sound.
The mood next shifted dramatically with a much more conventional selection by Mozart. Dillon introduced the master’s “Divertimento for Strings in D Major,” elaborating a bit on the meaning of the “diversion” style. She suggested the example of a daytime outing, perhaps an afternoon of kayaking on the Strait.
The piece has a very soothing introduction, redolent of an expanse of calm water in the sunlight. As the sound builds, it becomes ethereal and mystical, with soothing strains and slow, low-register, melodic phrases. When the theme culminates toward the end, the loveliness of the gentle, rhythmic melody evokes a kind of romantic, Mediterranean vista.
Mozart is a tough act to follow, but Pablo Ziegler’s unique arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Suite” for harp and strings did so splendidly, beginning with the entry of the evening’s guest soloist, Anna Maria Mendieta, wheeling her elegant instrument down the center aisle to the stage.
The suite opens surprisingly gently, as if masquerading as something other than a tango. It quickly takes on an urgency, though, and the familiar tango beat begins to prevail. I don’t believe words can adequately express the quality of this unique piece of music; they can only hint at the way it simply “works.”
Like the Opel piece, “Tango Suite” offers a new, unconventional way of putting music together, yet one that is extremely pleasing to the ear. The harp is played to sound more like a standard stringed instrument, even while retaining its special, delicate quality. The sound is quite rich and dramatic, with a mature, feminine sound; bass and cello parts, meanwhile, maintain a grounded, precise beat upon which the entire arrangement flourishes.
Sunday’s concert concluded with an elegant masterpiece of music, a more elaborate expression of the earlier “diversion” style. Jacques Ibert’s “Divertissement” was performed exquisitely, a fitting finale to an evening of diverse and beautiful music. The Ibert piece is playful and surprising, words that could also well describe the new performance group itself.
Getting their inaugural concert on the calendar was a huge accomplishment for the Collective, made possible by the generosity of this entire group of dedicated musicians who thoroughly enjoy playing with each other and under the direction of Maestro Ramadanoff. As yet, the group has no formal infrastructure, but it does have official designation as a 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization. An Internet presence is in the works, but meanwhile you can find the California Sound Collective on Facebook.
Congratulations to the musicians of the Collective and their conductor for a stimulating and inspiring inaugural performance. Bravo!
IF YOU GO
For more information about the California Sound Collective, find the group on Facebook or email them at email@example.com.
Elizabeth Warnimont is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from UC-Santa Barbara.