In introducing last night’s performance at the Old First Presbyterian Church, Matthew Wolka, Director of Old First Concerts (O1C), was kind enough to inform the audience that not all of the members of the Farallon Quintet would be present, since most of them were busy contributing to the orchestral resources for the San Francisco Opera production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelung (the ring of the Nibelung), which will begin its run of three weeks of performances this coming Tuesday. The fact is that only one of the Farallon players, second violinist Matthew Oshida, was present for the occasion. Thus, while the program drew upon the rich repertoire of music for clarinet and string quartet, to say that the music was performed by Farallon would have been a considerable misrepresentation.
This was, to say the least, unfortunate. The program featured the world premiere of “Ascension,” composed by California composer Ahmed Alabaca as a memorial piece for another Californian, clarinetist and educator Rex Aniciete. However, because last night’s group showed few signs of the kinds of in-the-moment interactions that are the bread-and-butter of chamber music performance, it is unclear that Alabaca’s music got a fair shake, let alone much more than an initial trial reading.
Indeed, while the program reached all the way from a fragment by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the immediate present, there was never any clear sign that last night’s players found a comfort zone in which they could engage with each other as a group. Thus, all the diversity of the program itself amounted to little more than well-intentioned efforts to scope out that diversity. As a result, each of the composers received, at best, a dutiful account; and, when things were not at their best, they were best forgotten entirely. (When playing Stanley Silverman’s arrangements of songs by George Gershwin, there was a clear sense that none of of the players had the foggiest idea of how either “Who Cares?” or “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” actually sounded.)
Let’s hope that O1C will be able to find a slot in which the real Farallon Quintet can give all of the selections on last night’s program the attentive treatment they deserve.