Eclectic Concerts represents the best of the past and the future for music performing and listening- with a vibe that is casual and engaging, seeing a concert at the Mortgage West Gallery on south Pearl St. is a bit like stepping into a pub or someone’s living room where excellent musicians just happen to be playing. Like a 19th-century salon, these concerts aim to make chamber music intimate, informal, and thrilling, by pairing unusual mixes of artists and genres, by having audience participation, and by educating about the music in a simple way. The “Eclectic Mix” on May 9 featured one half classical chamber music and one half Argentine Tango, making one completely entertaining event.
Guitarist Patrick Sutton was joined by cellist Katy Barker for a unique suite, Reflexoes No. 6, by Bolivian composer Jaime Zenamon. The carefree and sometimes jazzy cello lines joined Sutton’s rhythmic guitar part in this fun and subtly Latin rhythm-influenced piece. Soprano Amanda Balestrieri lent her voice to Heitor Villa-Lobos’ famous “Cantilena” from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. The group created their own arrangement from the original piece (which uses 8 celli) and Villa-Lobos’ version with guitar. In its wordless opening section, Balestrieri let the melancholy lines flow beautifully. The final hummed portion features a difficult doubling of the melody between cello and voice, and though the tuning was briefly out of sync, the piece was a fabulous addition to the program and nice bit of foreshadowing to the second half of the evening. Next up, Sutton and Balestrieri gave a trio of songs from Benjamin Britten’s folksong arrangements. These pieces are gems of intriguing harmonic and structural development; the voice stays fairly true to the traditional folksong melodies while the guitar has some incredibly descriptive and non-traditional accompaniment. Sutton played brilliantly here, especially on the whimsical and stilted rhythms of “Sailor Boy.” The audience joined this trio in a final sing-a-long of that Sound of Music favorite “Edelweiss.” It was a lovely closing to this set of classical yet folk tradition-influenced music.
On the second half, guitarist Gregory Nisnevich and Vladimir Sedykh on balalaika (of the group Triunfal) were joined by Argentinean bandoneon (or bayan) player Daniel Diaz. The three played a delightful mix of Argentine Tango, Milonga, and Russian pieces, and demonstrated the individual beauty of each in instrumental solos. The three together had an incredible range of expression and facility. The balalaika has an almost hammered dulcimer-like tone at times, and Sedykh played a brief solo with intensity and electric fingering. Diaz created plaintive vibrato and heart-melting dynamic contrasts in Astor Piazzolla’s “La misma pena.” Nisnevich likewise gave a poignant Milonga gaucha as his solo, playing the beautiful and distinct melody over a slow, rippling undercurrent of harmonic progression to hushed audience.
Founder Dianne Betkowski created Eclectic Concerts to emphasize “innovation, participation, and collaboration” in Denver’s chamber music scene. And indeed when folk/world music and classical are paired, as they were here, the audience gets to hear the connections between genres firsthand. Percussionist Scott Higgins and bassist Susan Cahill will be taking over leadership of the concert series next season, and hope to make things “even more eclectic.” The season is still being finalized, but audiences can look forward to more improvisation by the musicians, works by modernist master George Crumb, local Tango group Extasis, violinist Claude Sim, banjoist Jayme Stone, and many others. If the response of the audience tonight was any indication, Eclectic Concerts may soon need more chairs.