By Bridgette M. Redman
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
Opera, by its very nature, is typically done on a grand scale. Singers command large stages supported by choruses spread out behind them. Full orchestras perform hidden away in pits while providing sweeping music.
The Pittance Chamber Music seeks to bring a more focused look at opera by scaling its music down to chamber-size performances. Since 2013, artistic director Lisa Sutton — who is also the assistant concertmaster of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra — has been arranging small concerts featuring musicians from the orchestra and vocalists from the LA Opera Chorus and the LA Opera Young Artists Program.
Now, after more than a year of pandemic silence, they have announced a new season in a new venue, bringing concerts designed to personalize opera and give audiences a more intimate view of the artists who create it.
While their seasons normally begin with concerts in the fall, this season was delayed by COVID-19 issues, so their first show will be in January.
“We are all part of the Los Angeles Opera. We’re a group that is bound together by that common thread,” Sutton said. “I like to shine the spotlight on the orchestra. During the opera, they’re down in the pit. They’re heard but not seen.”
Two of the three concerts in the 2022 season were planned for 2021 and had to be canceled.
“The artists were so disappointed that we couldn’t do them, so I said we’d do them when we come back,” Sutton said.
The upcoming season is:
Theresa Dimond and Friends: 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 22
The first concert of the year takes a deep dive into the pit — landing in the percussion section. Hosted by the LA Opera Orchestra’s principal percussionist and UCLA lecturer Theresa Dimond, the program features a wide-ranging repertoire performed by musicians from the percussion, woodwind and string sections of the orchestra.
• Ingolf Dahl: “Concerto a Tre for Clarinet, Violin and Cello”
• Arvo Pärt: “Spiegel Im Spiegel (Cello and Marimba)”
• Nathan Daugherty: “Burn 3 for Flute, Clarinet and Marimba”
• Barbara Kolb: “Homage to Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton (Flute and Marimba)”
• Gerard Lecointe: “Point Bak (Mallet Ensemble)”
“The Lyric Oboe:” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26
The second concert features LA Opera Orchestra principal oboist Leslie Reed, pianist Edith Orloff and members of the LA Opera Orchestra in a recital program of favorite works that reflect the lyric side of the oboe, ranging from the pastoral to folk traditions, including works inspired by famous paintings.
• Saint-Saens: “Sonata for Oboe and Piano”
• Gilles Silvestrini: “Etudes for Oboe” inspired by the paintings of Boudin, Monet, Renoir and Manet”
• Joseph Horovitz: “Quartet for Oboe and Strings”
• Gabriel Fauré: “Pièce”
• Jacques Ibert: “Escales”
• Nino Rota: “Elegia”
• Gabriel Pierne: “Serenade”
• Alyssa Morris: “Collision Etudes: (Inspired by the paintings of Cassatt, Mitchell, Thomas and O’Keeffe)”
• Arnold Bax: “Quintet for Oboe and Strings”
“Liebeslieder!” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23
Pittance presents an evening featuring the complete Liebeslieder-Walzer of Johannes Brahms for vocal quartet and piano four hands. Members of the LA Opera Chorus are joined by soprano Elissa Johnston, with LAO conductors Grant Gershon and Jeremy Frank at the keyboard.
• Johannes Brahms: “Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 52 and 65”
This season, the musicians move to First United Methodist Church, which was founded in 1875 and located at 500 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena.
Sutton said that apart from the beautiful acoustics, it is a wonderful venue because the front of the church has a stage or a chancel. It’s spacious enough to accommodate the larger instruments needed for the first concert.
She said it has a beautiful Steinway grand piano that they’ll use in the third concert.
Sutton played concerts in the space many years ago as a member of the LA Chamber Orchestra and recently returned to hear a colleague’s recital.
“I remembered how great it was acoustically and how awe-inspiring architecturally,” Sutton said. “You walk in, and it blows you away with the high ceiling and the beauty.”
She is friends with the minister of music, Greg Norton.
“It feels a little bit like a return to the fold with him because I’ve known him for so many years,” Sutton said. “I talked to him about the concert series, and he helped me get that organized. I’m grateful to him for that.”
Percussions take center stage
Sutton said the stage size made the opening concert possible. At one point, they need four marimbas and a xylophone, which remain on stage for the entire program.
Sutton has wanted to perform this for some time. The lead percussionist, Dimond, is a longtime friend and is a lecturer at UCLA.
“She’s well-equipped to talk to audiences, and she does it in a very engaging way,” Sutton said. “She loves to do that, and it’s a big part of the concert.”
Sutton said the two of them chose the pieces. Dimond sent her pages of pieces, and she listened to all of them.
“Between the two of us, we figured it out,” Sutton said. “There are certain things you have to take into consideration. I like to see what she wanted to do, and she sent me a list. Then we finessed the personnel. Each group is a good team, compatible personally and artistically.”
Oboist tells stories
In a program that had to be canceled earlier because of the pandemic, Reed designed a concert around the oboe.
“Leslie Reed is the principal oboe in the LA Orchestra, which is a big position, similar to a concert mistress,” Sutton said. “She had a really wonderful idea about featuring the oboe as a lyric instrument and focusing on historically how it was used as an instrument in the pastoral sense by shepherds.”
Reed wanted to do pieces that were based on famous paintings. Sutton is working out how they might feature those paintings in the concert.
“She had all this enthusiasm about her program, I just let her go with it,” Sutton said. “I told her, ‘This is your program. You tell me what you want to do.’ She’s never been a featured artist in our program. We’ve had the principal cellist, the principal bass, the principal clarinetist. This is really her turn.”
Vocalists in story cycle
The third concert showcases Brahms’ “Love Song” waltzes performed by a vocal quartet and four hands on a piano.
The concert was the brainchild of Gershon, who was the LA Opera conductor and chorusmaster for many years.
“He’s an amazing pianist and just a delightful human being in every respect,” Sutton said. “These particular pieces are personal favorites of mine. I’ve done one of the books years ago with members of the chorus. Gershon wanted to do the complete cycle. I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
Gershon and Frank will sit side by side on a Steinway piano and play with four hands. Johnston, who is Gershon’s wife, will sing soprano. Sutton is still lining up the remaining three singers from the LA Opera chorus.
“The music is incredibly stunning,” Sutton said. “They are stunning pieces and lots of fun.”
Live chamber music returns
Sutton hopes audiences are as excited to return as her musicians are. During lockdown, they sometimes were able to get two instrumentalists together to play from across the room.
“They were dying to play, even without an audience,” Sutton said. “Just to be playing music together was a very emotional experience for them. It’s emotional for them to come back and it has been a real awakening for everyone to realize the gift that they have and the gift that they can share.”
She said the venue is very accessible. There are no stairs, and parking is free in the lot next door.
“It is an opportunity to hear high-quality chamber music in an awe-inspiring historic venue,” Sutton said. “The music is the main thing, but the setting is going to be quite magical.”
Pittance Chamber Music
WHEN: Throughout 2022
WHERE: First United Methodist Church, 500 E. Colorado
COST: $110 for three-concert subscription; $60 seniors three-concert subscription; single ticket $40; senior single ticket $25 and student rush single ticket $10