Charlie Bates: Emerald City concert impresses

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— Friday night's concert at United Methodist Church, featuring Mark Rasmussen on trumpet, was Emerald City Opera's first Resident Artist Spotlight Series performance of the season. Rasmussen is billed as a freelance trumpeter from the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego in classical, jazz and rock. He is now a member of the Steamboat Springs Orchestra.

He and his wife, Katie Rasmussen, who plays the woodwinds, oboe and English horn, now reside here and are welcome and appreciated. The other musicians were Marie Carmichael playing the church's fine Steinway grand piano; Jim Simpson, trumpet and French horn; Katie Grobe, trumpet; Skeeter Bourn, trumpet; Jim Knapp, trombone; Walt Sebert, tuba; and enchanting soprano, Michelle Hess.

Mark Rasmussen played first, solo, "Prayer of St. Gregory" by Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000). Perhaps he chose this piece to remind us of the profoundly religious nature of great music. Next, Rasmussen was joined by Simpson, Grobe, Bourn and Knapp in a quintet version of George Frederic Handel's (1685-1759) "Overture to Royal Fireworks." This is scaled down from the extravaganza featuring a great many more instruments composed at the request of George II, to celebrate the end - for the time being - of hostilities between England, Austria and France. The Overture is pleasant but overly familiar.

The next piece was more novel: Handel's "Let the Bright Seraphim," sung by Hess, accompanied by Rasmussen and Carmichael. The trumpet of Handel's time had only finger holes, not keys, and is now known as a "natural" trumpet. Trumpet and piano did complement and did not compete with Hess.

Hess then sang Alessandro Scarlatti's (1660-1759) "Mio Tesoro Per Te Moro" accompanied by Mark Rasmussen and Carmichael. In the translation provided, the libretto is wonderfully sappy, and as is often the case, it made a beautiful song.

Then the Rasmussens and Carmichael played Aaron Copland's (1900-1990) haunting "Quiet City." This piece began with Katie Rasmussen playing the English horn, which is a double reed woodwind with a lower pitch than the oboe. Its mournful tone perfectly evoked a slumbering, perhaps fog-shrouded city. The trumpet would take the place of the English horn, then the piano came to dominate as the city awakened, and finally we were led out by the English horn.

Marie Carmichael then played one of seven short pieces by Erique Granados (1807-1916) entitled "Quejas O la Maja y el Ruisenor." Majas were young women who worked every angle in their self-interest, and so there is intended a tension between her and the innocent nightingale. For those of us who have never heard a nightingale, the word is a symbol, but I've been told its song is unimaginably lovely.

Granados loved everything about Goya, but these pieces are not based on particular paintings, but they are more generally Goya-esque. He composed an opera based on hese pieces which was performed in San Francisco but on returning to Spain his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and he and his wife (he while trying to save her) drowned and the score was lost. Fifty years went by before what remained was reassembled, enough to at least appreciate the loss. This piece is of great complexity and evokes a wide range of emotion.

The audience expressed its appreciation by rising to its feet. After intermission, a brass quintet of Mark Rasmussen, Grobe, Simpson, Knapp, and Sebert played Ricor Del Primo Tuono by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). This piece was composed before brass instruments had taken their present form. The composition is Renaissance, yet strangely, the tuba came into its own in this and the following piece played by the same quintet, Die Bankelsangerlieder (1684), composer unknown. Then they played "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" by Albert Eric Maschwitz (1909-1969) and Manning Sherwin (1902-1974). We were provided a libretto of this nice love poem but we did not hear it sung to the wonderful music, and the same with the last piece, played solo by Mark Rasmussen, "Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez (1905-1945). No doubt Hess will treat us to those songs that were omitted when she feels ready, giving those who missed out on this concert another chance.

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