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On your feet!

Chamber concert enhances surroundings
by Christopher Key

Last year, it became apparent that the Bellingham Cruise Terminal is far more than just a transportation hub. It’s also a spectacular venue for chamber music and the Bellingham Festival of Music understands success. It comes pretty close to sensory overload when you see sailboats reaching across the bay on a sunny afternoon, flags waving in the breeze and all accompanied by some of the best music the planet has to offer.

That’s what enraptured a nearly full house for two hours on this glorious Northwest afternoon. Much of the audience looked slightly stunned as they left, but they were all smiling. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

Harpist Rita Costanzi led off the program with Mikhail Glinka’s Variations on a Theme of Mozart in E-flat, G.vi13. It’s undoubtedly trite to refer to harp playing as angelic or heavenly, so how about this: she’s a helluva harpist. In my admittedly limited experience of watching harpists, they have always seemed a rather laid-back bunch. Not Costanzi. She’s passionate about the music and her instrument and is not afraid to show it in her body language. She had the crowd mesmerized by the end of the first two bars and never let them go. The crowd was not inclined to let her go, either.

It’s a good thing that she came back for the second work in the program, a relatively new composition by Michael Cohen. Costanzi and the composer obviously connect on a deep level and he was in the audience to cheer her on. The harpist was joined by flutist Christina Smith, oboist Joseph Robinson and cellist Steven Thomas for Cohen’s Aria for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harp. The composition is very dramatic and I kept thinking that it could be the soundtrack for a film. Unfortunately, there are no filmmakers I am aware of who could create something remotely worthy of this exquisite piece of music. That is probably a good thing in the long run. The images it creates in our minds are incapable of being captured on film.

Costanzi, Smith and Thomas were then joined by clarinetist Laura Ardan and three other strings for Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet. The other strings consisted of Richard Roberts (Violin I), Victor Costanzi (Violin II) and Brant Bayless (Viola). Allegro can be loosely translated as pedal to the metal and it’s no easy task to keep things crisp at such a brisk pace. This group made it look easy. There were a couple of times when the flute and clarinet passed a theme back and forth so seamlessly it was hard to tell when one stopped and the other started. The witty ending had people chuckling with delight.

After the intermission, the string quartet came back along with bassist Alex Hanna to perform Antonin Dvořák’s String Quintet #2 in G Major, Op. 77. The addition of a bass to the standard string quartet adds a dimension that is almost percussive in impact. Three of the movements in this work are marked allegro and we all know what that means by now. It gave this quintet the opportunity to show off that rather spooky communication that chamber musicians share only with the best jazz artists. A glance or a nod of the head keeps everyone on track and who needs a conductor anyway? Apologies to Maestro Palmer.

I have a particular fondness for chamber music because it separates the virtuosos from the rest of the pack. A less-than-virtuosic musician may be able to pass in a full orchestra, but there’s no place to hide in a chamber ensemble. From what I’ve seen and heard, every member of the BFOM orchestra is a chamber musician.

Monday’s concert brings back cellist Joshua Roman, soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and her hubby, pianist Kevin Murphy, for an all-star joint recital. There may be a few tickets left, so call (360) 650-6146 and make your reservations.

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