Three by three makes more than a Pittance

Pittance Chamber Music is an unusual venture. Borne of the passions of various players and behind-the-scenes folks at LA Opera and led and emcee’d by artistic director Lisa Sutton, this creative and enthusiastic group brings considerable vitality and expertise to a project that they’re genuinely excited about.

This is one of the wonders of seeing professional performers throw themselves into something just because they want to: we often connect with the material in a different way, and the results can be magical. This is what happened Saturday night, with a charming little program called “Three’s Company: Music for Unique Combinations of Three“. In the beautiful space of Pasadena Conservatory of Music’s Barrett Hall, we saw and heard an engaging string trio by Schubert, played by a threesome of fine artists whose playing was well-defined and stately, then full of vigor and as fun to watch as to hear. Kudos to violinist Marina Manukian, violist Karie Prescott and cellist John Walz for an entertaining take on a Romantic gem.

The second set stretched the theme a bit, counting the composer, present in the audience, as the third party in a piano/bassoon duo. But with a cry of “Composers are people, too!”, there was just too much good humor in the room to quibble. It helped that the piece, Gernot Wolfgang‘s Road Signs was also truly delightful, with inventive variations inspired by one of the most varied yet mundane factors of living in Southern California: traffic in all its forms. What we have come to expect in our daily lives became mournful melodies and jazzy, dynamic rhythms, but pianist Nic Gerpe and bassoonist Judith Farmer (also the composer’s wife) were clearly at ease in their difficult parts.

Mezzo Michelle Siemens, violist Shawn Mann and pianist Milena Gligic brought us two sets by Johannes Brahms and by Charles Martin Loeffler, the first introduced with an exceedingly sad and personal story from Brahms’ life, the second with an almost eerie tale of Loeffler’s The Broken Bell, in which the bell represents the broken soul of the poet. All three of the performers executed their parts well, creating a stirring excursion into a rich emotional spectrum.

The evening wrapped up with a Poulenc trio for oboe, bassoon and piano that was so full of infectious energy that it was toe-tapping good fun. Leslie Reed and William May joined Ms. Gligic for a quadruple-reeded romp into one of Poulenc’s neo-classical experiments.

This is a series worth watching, as in the five years since they started, they have proven themselves an imaginative and resourceful group of representatives for the engines that keep opera running. Their next concert is a free program on June 19 in the same space. If you’d like to support Pittance with or without your attendance, consider either volunteering with the organization or donating via

Thanks so all who contributed to this evening that turned out to be such a pleasant surprise. We look forward to hearing more.

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