By Daniel Hathaway
September 11, 2012
Composer Margaret Brouwer has enjoyed the shores of Lake Erie and imagined outdoor concerts there ever since her parents bought a cottage in Huron in the 1960s. Combine that with the “Pierrot” chamber group she recently established and populated with former members of the CIM new music ensemble, name it after the Blue Streak, a famous roller-coaster at Cedar Point, and you have both motive and opportunity for an unusual series of summer concerts on our local Great Lake.
We visited the charming, gated, Methodist Church-affiliated community of Lakeside on the Marblehead peninsula on Monday evening, August 27 to hear the Blue Streak Ensemble play an evening concert in the bandstand adjoining an array of shuffleboard courts where national tournaments are regularly held. That was the plan, but an afternoon storm prompted the authorities to make an early decision to move the performance into Hoover Auditorium, a barrel-ceilinged space capacious as an airplane hangar that seats 3,000.
Good news for pianist Shuai Wang, who could trade her electronic keyboard in for a concert grand, but a bit confusing for Lakeside residents who went largely uninformed about the change. Happily, word of mouth is quick and reliable at Lakeside, and a nice-sized audience eventually drifted in to enjoy an unusually engaging concert of accessible chamber music (along with plenty of elbow room — this was the first week of school and Lakeside was definitely entering post-season).
The quintet (flutist Madeleine Lucas, violinist Sharon Roffman, clarinetist Amitai Vardi, cellist Maaike Harding and pianist Shuai Wang) led off with Brouwer's arrangement of J.S. Bach's Invention in F, followed by her original work for flute and digital delay, Somewhere the bells. Here's what followed: two movements from Terry Vosbein's Paris Quintet, three from Victoria Bond's Bridges, two Fritz Kreisler violin bon bons, Ravel's Jeux d'Eau, Debussy's Clair de Lune (Ravel's original, Debussy arranged by Brouwer), Brouwer's Rhapsody for solo cello, with flute and piano, and to end, Paul Desmond's Take Five, arranged by Brouwer.
Margaret Brouwer, who announced each selection from the stage, made the excellent decision to mix things up so that individual movements of Vosbein's Paris vignettes and Bond's musical impressions of bridges in China, Brooklyn and rural Virginia were all played out of order and interleaved with something completely different. The deconstruction worked perfectly and allowed the listener to pay close attention to each colorful movement.
The juxtaposition of new music, familiar music in new trappings and well-known works in their original form kept things fresh and flowing, and the hour-long concert was over before you knew it. Brouwer's original music is friendly and welcoming and her musical interests are wide-ranging, as evidenced by what she chooses for her masterful arrangements. The quintet of players were superb individually and collectively — most impressively as an ensemble in the Debussy. Subtle sound reinforcement helped fill the vastness of the hall without calling attention to itself.
Too bad this program had to move indoors — the sun reappeared late in the afternoon and the evening turned into a fine one — but no matter; the audience gave Brouwer and the Blue Streak Ensemble an enthusiastic ovation and many asked about CDs (none yet, but stay tuned). They're onto something good here and chamber music presenters who have difficulty programming new music on their series should pay attention to what Blue Streak is doing so successfully.