At 11, Chameleon goes for Sundays
To begin with the obvious, freshness matters. Now in its 11th season, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble presents concerts that almost always intrigue with their carefully curated blending of classic and contemporary repertoire. So it's no surprise to learn that the group's core audience has expanded to the point that, this season for the first time, Chameleon is offering three Sunday performances in addition to its longstanding Saturday night series.
The first of these Sunday matinee programs took place last weekend at the Goethe-Institut. On the bill was a lesser-performed work from the repertory (Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola, and harp); a new piece (Krzysztof Penderecki's Sextet for clarinet, horn, and piano quartet); and a cherished core work from the 19th-century chamber music literature (Brahms's Piano Trio No. 1).
Chameleon artistic director (and flutist) Deborah Boldin often leans on this general programming formula. It tends to bear fruit precisely because of the choices she makes within each category, and because of the committed performances that the Chameleon players typically offer.
Of course, every audience member will not love every piece on a program - just as any museum-goer will not adore everything on the walls - but you can bet that at least one work will hit home, and over time, a sense of audience trust develops.
In this case, the Debussy received a dynamic if at times slightly unsettled reading from Boldin, violist Scott Woolweaver, and harpist Anna Reinersman. The trio clearly reveled in the unusual sonorities generated by this rare combination of instruments, and drew out many of the work's vibrant washes of color. Penderecki's Sextet was written in 2000 and suggests a kind of retrospective, elegiac look at the landscape of the 20th century, often in a surprisingly traditional language, with more than hints of Mahler and Shostakovich. Though alluring in some individual moments, its material really never justifies its considerable length, nor were the full, almost orchestral textures flattered by the small dimensions of Sunday's performance space. Eli Epstein (French horn) and Gary Gorczyca (clarinet) joined the other Chameleon players.
After intermission, violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer, and pianist Gloria Chien offered a beautifully burnished, long-lined reading of the Brahms piano trio. Do the opening bars of any chamber work in the literature enfold the listener with such irresistible warmth? At least for a few moments on Sunday, the answer was: not even close.