It’s shaping up to be a banner weekend for fans of challenging artistic fare in Fresno. The Fresno State theater department is opening “Absurd Masterworks” featuring short plays by Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. And the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, on the cutting-edge of music, presents a concert that includes an original opera by Fresno’s Jack Fortner titled “NOTHING and more.”
The Fortner opera will be performed by the Austria-based El Cimarron Ensemble, a dynamic group of younger artists that has its finger on the pulse of the contemporary European chamber music scene. I have a story about the production in Friday’s issue of 7. Directing the work, which will be presented 8 p.m. Saturday at the Fresno State Concert Hall, is Michael Kersten, who founded the group with guitarist Christina Schorn and percussionist Ivan Mancinelli in early 1999. We caught up with him via email to talk about El Cimarron and “NOTHING and more.”
Question: For those who aren’t familiar with the ensemble, tell us a little about the group.
Answer: Having started as a youth and students project in Salzburg (Austria), it has had residencies in Taranto (South Italy), Sassari (Sardegna), and finally we’re back in Austria.
We have chosen the name El Cimarrón-Ensemble after our first production, “El Cimarrón” by Hans Werner Henze, probably the most important composer in the late 20th century. This means, we have basically 5 positions: guitar, percussion, flute, baritone, and stage director.
In a weekend filled with many classical music possibilities, a great bet is Moment Musical’s “Sunday Serenade.” In Friday’s 7 section, I focus on pianist Alan Rea and flutist Janette Erickson, who over the years have played duets many times together. Here’s the extended version of that interview.
Question: You’ll be performing a little-played piece for flute and piano by Friedrich Kuhlau. Tell us about your radio experience that led you to this piece. It almost sounds like a bit of detective work.
Erickson: Alan and I had searched over the years of collaboration to find some worthwhile pieces that treated the flute and piano as a duet team, rather than a flute solo with very little thematic interest in the piano part. We love the trade-off of each playing the interesting material. So, always looking for another piece, one day I turned on the radio KVPR (FM 89.3) and heard a wonderful piece. I called in to find out the name and opus number: Kuhlau Grande Sonata, Op. 83, No. 3. We could not find this piece. I even looked while at the National Flute Convention and its Dayton C. Miller Collection. No one had it.
(Coincidentally, after we found the music, we later picked No. 2 after we played through the three Grande Sonatas a year later. We loved it the most!)
It turns out February is a very good month for chamber music fans. There have been some great concerts already, and this weekend features some good prospects as well.
I wrote a hefty column last Sunday about three of the Fresno biggies when it comes to the chamber music scene: Orpheus, Moment Musical and Musica Viva. I do realize that chamber music has a pretty narrow draw and likely always will, so I understand if you choose to glaze right past this post, but if there’s one thing about chamber music I wanted to get across in my column, it’s this:
There’s a tremendous variety. You can go to a concert filled to the brim with Haydn and Mozart one night, then settle in to a raucous zydeco-and-blues set the next.
One best bet this weekend is a 3 p.m. Sunday performance of the Calidore String Quartet at Visalia’s Main Street Theatre.