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Music review: Pacific Serenades opens three-concert series

May 1, 2011 | 11:47 am

Quietly yet relentlessly, the new/old chamber music series Pacific Serenades has been building an imposing catalog over its 25 seasons –- presenting a newly commissioned work at each of its concerts. The new-work count reached 100 in March, and moved on to No. 101 over the past weekend -– which artistic director Mark Carlson bravely referred to as the start of the next cycle of 100.

The first of each program's three performances always takes place in a private home -– and so, on Saturday afternoon, we sampled one in the home of Ronna Binn-Hersh and Louis R. Hersh deep in the hills of Tarzana. The Hershes have converted their living room into a mini-concert hall, with "balcony seating" at the top of the staircase and two excellent Steinway pianos –- a 9-foot American model and a 7-foot Hamburg model -– dominating the shoebox-shaped space. (Sunday afternoon's concert is at Pasadena's Neighborhood Church, and the series concludes Tuesday at the UCLA Faculty Center)

NewsEricCharnofskyHiRes Los Angeles-born, now-Cleveland-based composer Eric Charnofsky served up New Work No. 101 which he calls "5 by 5" –- to wit, five movements performed by a piano quintet. Roughly 18 1/2 minutes in length, "5 by 5" is a pleasing succession of meditations surrounding a mildly energetic tarantella, most effective when evoking wide-open prairie visions a la Copland in the second movement. The crack presiding quintet included pianist Edith Orloff, violinists Roger Wilkie and Miwako Watanabe, violist David Walther and cellist David Speltz.

Orloff, Wilkie and Speltz prefaced the new work with a tightly blended rendering of Mozart's Piano Trio in B-Flat, K. 502, in which Orloff kept the huge American Steinway from overpowering the strings, applying small effective touches of rubato.  

 All five players finished the afternoon with Ernö Dohnányi's Piano Quintet No. 1, one of the more astonishing Opus 1s in the literature. Drenched as it is in heavyweight Brahmsian rhetoric circa 1895, this melodious, solidly constructed serving of Central European meat-and-dumplings is not exactly a path-breaker. But considering that the Hungarian composer was a mere 18 years young when he wrote it, "astonishing"  is the right word. The quintet applied an appropriately thick, juicy texture that flooded the room.

 –- Richard S. Ginell

Pacific Serenades 4 p.m. Sunday, Neighborhood Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, and 8 p.m. Tuesday, UCLA Faculty Center, 405 N. Hilgard Ave. on the UCLA campus, Westwood; $32; (310) 825-0877 or

Photo: Eric Charnofsky. Credit: Cleveland Institute of Music