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Key Player: Pianist Brenda Tom performs a Shostakovich concerto this Saturday with the newly christened Cadenza (formerly the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra).

Chamber Fever

Two Santa Cruz chamber music outfits, one glorious weekend.

By Scott MacClelland

IN SEASONS PAST, a weekend like the one coming up--with two chamber music concerts on the same day by groups bearing nearly identical names--could have caused mayhem among the classical cognoscenti. Fortunately for both the Santa Cruz Chamber Players and the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra, the latter has changed its name to Cadenza, and so order reigns again as a fine season opens for both.

Kevin Jordan opens the Santa Cruz Chamber Players season with music for brass quintet. While the program includes a canzon by Giovanni Gabrieli (music often heard in brass programs since the 1950s), that late 16th-century composer had no access to these instruments as we know them today. Quintets made popular by the Canadian Brass and Empire Brass were invented in the 19th century, first by a Frenchman called Jean-François Bellon, whose works are now virtually forgotten, and then by the St. Petersburg amateur Victor Ewald, whose Russian-flavored Quintet in B-flat, op. 5, is included in Jordan's lineup.

The program opens with Benjamin Britten's Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury, for three valveless trumpets (one part here assigned to horn). Without valves, some of the notes will sound out of tune, exactly the sort of challenge Britten so cleverly designed for the International Trumpet Guild in 1979. Ingolf Dahl's Music for Brass Instruments from the early '50s is a highly regarded staple of the quintet repertoire, as is Malcolm Arnold's Quintet for Brass, a work that reflects the composer's own trumpet virtuosity along with the tricks and techniques familiar to all brass players. French Christmas carols will be recalled in Morley Calvert's charming quintet written for the band program he directed at Montreal's McGill University.

Meanwhile, opening the 2009-2010 season, Maya Barsacq has changed the name of her string orchestra to Cadenza, and performs three 20th-century masterpieces. Dmitri Shostakovich was 27 when he wrote Piano Concerto no. 1, which encapsulates the many expressive facets--sarcasm, wit, theatricality and pathos--that recurred throughout his creative career. Soloist Brenda Tom is joined by trumpeter Owen Miyoshi in a prominent concertante part. Miyoshi gets a similar role in the concluding movement of Arthur Honegger's haunting and anxious wartime Symphony no. 2 when he plays a heroic chorale melody over the frantic strings.

Now 63, Latvian composer Peteris Vasks ranks among the best of today's composers. His Cantabile flatters the strings with a rich tapestry of textures and, at one passage, simultaneous improvisation by all players. "Cantabile is a stunning piece," says Barsacq. "Its various climaxes and large diminuendo sections are like the mountains of an inner world, the emotional highs and lows that we humans experience throughout our lives."

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS perform Saturday, Oct. 24, 8pm, and Sunday, Oct. 25, 3pm, at Christ Lutheran Church, 10707 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets at the door are $20 general/$15 seniors/$10 youth. For more information, 831.425.3149.

CADENZA plays Saturday Oct. 24, 8pm, at Holy Cross Church, 126 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20 general/$15 seniors*/$10 students with ID* (*available at the door only), or Streetlight Records, call 800.838.3006 or 831.429.1973.

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