For almost 40 years, the Santa Cruz Chamber Players have been at the forefront of regional performance, and their newest program will showcase a quintet of outstanding musicians conjuring instrumental magic. Czech, Please, the Players’ third concert of the season, gives us a chance to hear music by Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, and Josef Suk on Jan. 13 and 14 at Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos.
Laden with passionate melodies and aching musical rhapsodies, these compositions for strings conjure worlds both remote and timeless. Featuring the violins of concert director Roy Malan and Susan Freier Harrison, the viola of Polly Malan, the cello of Stephen Harrison and Robin Sutherland at the piano, the program promises to take the listener on a fierce and haunting journey through some richly crafted music.
“That’s the great pleasure of listening to chamber music, the ability to focus on each player in an intimate ensemble. In a sense, each performer has a starring role,” says the Players’ general manager, Phyllis Rosenblum. At the heart of the upcoming concert are violinist Roy Malan and his wife, violist Polly, whom he credits with organizing the upcoming concert repertoire. Both are active in the area as teachers of violin and viola—Polly at Waldorf School, and Roy at UCSC.
With Chamber Players, says Polly Malan, “the musicians have to dig deeply into their true emotions—you’re very exposed. Chamber music is always very fulfilling as well as lots of pressure.”
Roy Malan, who as a teenager studied in New York with Efrem Zimbalist Sr. and the legendary Jascha Heifetz, recently retired from a 40-year career as concertmaster with the San Francisco Ballet. He remains a vigorous presence with Nicole Paiement’s Opera Parallele as well as several top Bay Area string quartets. The secret of his current passion for chamber music, he says, is that “there’s no conductor! But of course you have to have the best people. They must be flexible, and they have to be wonderful chamber players, with lots of chamber music experience.” In the case of the upcoming January concert, the performers are all old friends and colleagues—having performed together many times and for many years.
Polly Malan’s dance card is as full as her husband’s, given her teaching schedule as well as recording and performing with the Chamber Players and Hidden Valley String Orchestra. She too finds it both freeing and “miraculous” that a group of musicians can work without a conductor. “With Chamber Players you choose who you’re playing with,” she explains. “You pick a theme, often it’s Haydn, Beethoven, or something romantic, in this case the Czech composers.”
With Chamber Players, she says, “the musicians have to dig deeply into their true emotions—you’re very exposed. Chamber music is always very fulfilling as well as lots of pressure,” she laughs. She says she chose the viola as her specialty because “it was different, and I believe the viola to be closer to the human voice than the other instruments.” But she also admits that there are fewer opportunities for violists. “We have to have smaller egos and more tolerance.”
Polly Malan promises that audiences will find the music in January to be “highly emotional and very romantic.” Rosenblum, a professional flautist and former music writer for the Sentinel, adds that the Santa Cruz Chamber Players concerts are “incredibly fun. The performers introduce each selection, providing anecdotes and background. The setting is intimate, with great acoustics. It’s a great way to get to know local musicians.” Many are already quite well-known, like composer Chris Pratorius-Gomez, concert director for the March 10-11 program. Come to one of the Players’ concerts and prepare to be moved by the powerful experience of live musical performance.
“If you haven’t moved people, you haven’t done your job,” Roy Malan insists. The upcoming program of vibrant and enigmatic Czech music should do just that.
The Santa Cruz Chamber Players will perform ‘Czech, Please’ on Jan. 13-14 at Christ Lutheran Church, 10707 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Tickets and details at scchamberplayers.org.