Thursday, September 20, 2018

ACEing it in the South Bay


ACE Trio, “The Interludes”, First Lutheran Church, Torrance

Cal State Northridge alums Ryan Glass (clarinet), Shannon Canchola (flute), and Jason Stoll (piano) (left, l-r) came together around a year ago to form ACE Trio, which “derives its name from the common triad in Western music and is considered consonant, stable, never requiring resolution.”

This seemed to hint a mission statement, and indeed the program they presented to the season’s first “Interludes” program at First Lutheran Church consisted entirely of “their own innovative arrangements and accessible contemporary music from living composers from around the world”, all cheerily introduced by Ms. Canchola and Mr. Glass. 

The first item, Doppler Effect, by Adrienne Albert (b.1941) was indeed an arrangement, but her own – one of over a dozen (as listed on her website) of the 1998 original for flute, viola and harp. Given that the “Doppler effect” is of changes in wave frequency (i.e. rise or fall in pitch in the case of sound) as source and observer move toward or away from each other, I was anticipating maybe some microtonal shifting, but instead Ms. Albert’s piece proved not to stray far from the blithe, somewhat Gallic, woodwind melody over a piano ostinato with which it opens. 
Adrienne Albert.

In due course tendrils of dissonance do insinuate themselves into the flow, and around the mid-way point the piece tilts sideways into a tango before getting back on track with some swapping around of the melody and ostinato. All in all it was for me an engaging introduction to a previously unknown American composer, and a fine initial showcase for ACE Trio’s skills. 

The program had gone through some changes on its way to the First Lutheran platform. The initially announced City Boy by Judd Greenstein had, by leaflet printing time, given way to Armando Ghidoni’s L’étoile Inconnue, but this also was dropped due to excessive running time, so we went straight onto Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), of which Mr. Glass introduced his own new arrangement for flute, clarinet, and piano. 

It’s worth noting that Piazzolla wrote the movements as separate compositions between 1965 and 1970 and only then decided to assemble them into a suite, so its unity is not a given. Any one of these Estaciones is pleasant enough, but for me the work as a whole yielded diminishing returns. I've no particular memory of the one previous live performance I'd heard (in the arrangement by Desyatnikov for violin and strings), but this time around after 25 minutes I was pretty much tangoed out, and no amount of enthusiastic advocacy by the trio could shake my continuing suspicion that Piazzolla is a one-trick pony. 

The downward spiral of interest continued with the first two of the three movements of Dance by Oliver Davis (b.1972), again arranged by Mr. Glass, in this case from a violin/strings/piano original. As Davis is a fellow Brit it’s painful to say that this vapidly pretty piece, each movement seemingly tailored to the three-minute pop music attention span, had (for me) about as much substance as a Hallmark greetings-card. Apparently he is a big hit over there *sigh*. 

Russell Peterson.
Fortunately interest perked up, and indeed peaked, with the Trio for flute, alto saxophone, and piano (sax part duly recast for clarinet by Mr. Glass) by American saxophonist Russell Peterson (b. 1969). 

From a coolly Ravelian unison opening on all three instruments, the Andante first movement gained textural complexity and propulsiveness before returning to stasis, while the ensuing Adagio comparably moved seamlessly from a bleak melody of somewhat Oriental cast on flute followed by clarinet against deep piano octaves, to a whirling central section, and then back. The final Allegro was a moto perpetuo requiring exceptional ensemble work at high speed and spectacularly virtuosic individual flights from all three players. It got both in spades from the trio. 

Guillaume Connesson.
Last on the program came Techno-Parade by the Frenchman Guillaume Connesson (b. 1970), a pulsing squib of a piece featuring flute overblowing above the piano pounding out rhythms that threatened to turn into the “Mission Impossible” theme. Everyone including the audience had a great time but it was a relief that it didn’t go on longer than four minutes. After this, the encore couldn’t have been more contrasted – the tender Interlude (entr'acte) before Act 3 of Bizet’s Carmen, which apparently had special significance for the players. 

Despite reservations about some of the repertoire, this was a vivid debut performance by ACE Trio, and I certainly hope South Bay music-lovers can look forward to hearing them again. In the meantime, if Mr. Glass is looking to arrange other works for the flute/clarinet/piano medium, I wonder whether he knows Arnold Bax’s exquisite Elegiac trio for flute, viola and harp


“The Interludes”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 3.00pm, Saturday, September 15, 2018.
Photos: ACE Trio: Courtesy; Adrienne Albert: Composer website; Russell Peterson: Composer website; Guillaume Connesson: © Jean-Baptiste Millot (composer website).

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