An Afternoon With Pittance Chamber Music

When I was in high school my music teacher was a member of the (now defunct) William Hall Master Chorale and offered me a complimentary ticket to their performance. I wasn’t very familiar with classical music but, always game for something new, I accepted. I ended up loving it and started attending their shows regularly and soon after added the symphony and opera to my repertoire. To this day one of my favorite sounds is an orchestra warming up before a show. While my knowledge of classical music remains casual at best I still enjoy hearing it live. Recently, I was invited to attend an afternoon concert from Pittance Chamber Music and eagerly accepted.

Pittance Chamber Music was founded in 2013 by Lisa Sutton, the Assistant Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, with the goal of highlighting the talented artists of the orchestra pit. Through intimate concerts consisting of small ensembles these remarkable musicians are able to gain the recognition they so rightly deserve.

You can often hear Pittance Chamber Music perform at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music and that’s just where I headed for their most recent show. The on campus performance venue, Barrett Hall, with it’s church-like atmosphere, is the perfect venue for an intimate performance.

On this day we were to hear Piano Quartets with Robert Thies featuring the acclaimed pianist accompanied by Ben Jacobson on violin, Brian Dembow on viola and Rowena Hammill on cello. Scheduled were pieces from a trio of masters – Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.

As soon as the program began I knew it would be unlike any other classic performance I’d attended previously. Whereas in large concert halls the musicians simply perform the program here they interacted with the audience. Before each piece Thies (and later Hammill) introduced the work and explained some of its backstory. Both provided insight as to why each was chosen and, for a novice like me, it proved extremely helpful.

The first half of the program paid homage to Mozart with a performance of Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K. 478 and Beethoven’s Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from the Magic Flute. The latter featured a solo performance by Rowena Hammill on cello and her mastery of the piece was impressive. I’ve long loved the cello and her playing filled my heart with absolute joy.

In the second portion of the afternoon we heard Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26. Rarely played due to its length it’s an extraordinary showcase for all the musicians involved. Consisting of 4 movements, each incredibly beautiful in its own right, it at once elicits a range of emotions from sorrow to peace to joy to absolute exuberance. In fact, the ending is so exhilarating that as soon as the last note was played the audience (myself included) leapt to their feet with resounding applause. Ordinarily, I find standing ovations rarely merited but this time it was well deserved.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first introduction to Pittance Chamber Music and am eager for their next performance. On March 31, 2019 is Evensong with tenor Joshua Wheeker featuring the works Vaughn Williams and Brahms and on June 15, 2019 is A Tale of Two Émigrés with LA Opera Music Director James Conlon featuring the works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Arnold Schoenberg. With tickets as low as $10 there’s no excuse not to attend.

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