Kate Steinbeck is now Artistic Director of a new artistic initiative. Combining the word “pan” (the flute-playing Greek god) with “harmonia” (Greek goddess of symmetry and order), the group’s moniker — Pan Harmonia — suggests a broader and more inclusive reach for chamber music literature which doesn’t fit traditional programming. This program showed where they are headed — adapting standard repertoire to new grooves using the area’s incredible array of local talent and performing lesser known or commissioned works — all with the eye to “exploring the 'points of connection' where sounds of the world meet and embrace.” While it’s a new brand, the ensemble’s first performance in Patton Auditorium on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College had all the hallmarks of Steinbeck’s signature passion and commitment to the arts.
The musicians were Kate Steinbeck, flute, Gail Ann Schroeder, viola de gamba, Barbara Weiss, harpsichord, and River Guerguerian, percussion. Schroeder graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in music history and has had a distinguished performance career in Europe before she returned to the US in 2006. She has been teaching at numerous workshops for the Viola da Gamba Society of America, the Amherst Early Music Festival and Mountain Collegium and currently lives in Asheville. Her 7-string French baroque bass viol was built by Rheinhard Ossenbrunner.
Weiss has been on the faculty of both the Oberlin Conservatory and the Peabody Institute, as well as Concordia College and the Universities of Minnesota and Pennsylvania. She regularly teaches at summer workshops such as the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, the Madison Early Music Festival, and Indiana University’s Recorder Academy. Weiss performs on an intriguing, quasi rectangular-shaped harpsichord copied from an Italian instrument from the 1500s and modified by Chicago builder Paul Irvin.
River Guerguerian is an award-winning multi-percussionist, composer, and educator. Canadian-born, he is of Armenian-Egyptian extraction. For over 25 years he has performed in concert halls throughout the world. He is also the music director of the "Creative Technology & Arts Center" hosted by the Odyssy School in Asheville. He currently travels internationally with Turkish master musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek.
I loved the program (dubbed “Music from the Land of Olive Oil” by Steinbeck) and the easy informality of its presentation. Weiss danced across the stage in a high-stepping galliard; Guerguerian demonstrated the nuances of hand drumming on a large, framed drum; and Steinbeck forsook her shoes while assuming the role of concert host. All spoke to the music, composers, and the instruments at hand.
The program began with Three Recercadas from Tratado de Glosas (1553) by Diego Ortiz, a treatise on ornamentation for the viol. Schroeder’s lightning, but light bowings and figurations were solidly supported by keyboard chord progressions and some percussion to enhance the work’s many melodic syncopations. Following this was the Jade Notch Flute Suite (1974) by Alan Hovhaness which had been commissioned by Betty Hensley. The work’s three movements (meditative, more deliberate, and most animated) were underscored by a variety of percussion, including a long drum solo in the final movement. Steinbeck’s flute playing was spell-binding — no one knows better than she how to hang notes and silence in the air.
“El Cant de Ocells,” a Catalonian folksong and a favorite encore of Pablo Casals, brought flute, gamba, and harpsichord together in what became a homage to cellist Bernard Greenhouse, founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, who had also performed the work and who just died at the age of 95. Just before a brief intermission, the group continued with "Les Folies d’Espagne" (1701) by Marin Marais. Although performed “as never heard before” with occasional percussion adding a Moroccan funk groove and an embellished flute sharing the soloist spot, the work remained a showcase for its original instrument, the viol.
The fun continued with a spirited and inspired performance of the Galliard in A minor by William Byrd from My Lady Nevell's Book (1591), originally for solo virginal (rectangular harpsichord so loved by the English), here enhanced by gamba pizzicatos and drumwork. Ariadne (1987) for flute and percussion by American composer Lou Harrison consisted of two programmatic movements. “Ariadne Abandoned” (by Theseus), featured gong and later a tier of three Chinese cymbals with the flute’s plaintive wailings. “The Triumph of Ariadne and Dionysos” (her new love) was played with joy-filled abandon.
The program’s final selections performed by all were the seven Canciones populares españolas (1914) by Manuel De Falla. The standouts were No. 3 “Asturiana,” a song in which a weeper is joined in weeping by a green pine tree, No 5, “Nana,” a sweet lullaby, no. 6 “Canción,” and No. 7 “Polo” on the wretchedness of love — Ay! While these were colorful and musically interesting and the text translations were read, I still missed the sound of the vocalist and the original poetry.