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MUSIC REVIEW : Chamber Concert Ends Up Closing Strawberry Creek

Recent summers have seen a curtailing in the activities of the once-robust Strawberry Creek Music Festival in Malibu, but a visit to its home at Pepperdine University Saturday night showed that at least some things are still in order.

The festival continues to boast a strong list of faculty and guest artists; its student roster, though no longer of orchestral proportions, contains 27 names. And the chamber music concert in Smothers Theatre, given by faculty and guests, proved engaging, committed and well rehearsed.

Soprano Carla Perez, who doubles as executive director of the festival, opened with three Rachmaninoff songs, “O Cease Thy Singing,” “The Little Island” and “Spring Waters,” straightforwardly sung in her ample and rich voice with sensitive accompaniment by pianist Val Underwood and, in the Kreisler arrangement of the first song, violinist Eugene Gratovitch.

Underwood joined flutist Gary Woodward for an easygoing and fluid account of Prokofiev’s Sonata in D.

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A purposeful and heated interpretation of Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet wound up the program, with clarinetist Gary Gray an expressive collaborator rather than soloist with the string quartet of Miwako Watanabe, Gratovitch, Veronica Salas and Rick Naill. The reading could seem overstated at times, pushed toward melodrama, but this was by way of a positive decision, not from lack of taste or technique.

All was not well, however. At intermission, president Simon Gamer abruptly announced the cancellation of this Saturday’s festival-closing concert, “because of financial difficulties,” while guaranteeing the return of Strawberry Creek next year. A benefit for the festival, a recital by soprano Jeannine Altmeyer, is scheduled at Occidental College, Aug. 20.


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