So “Pepito” got pride of place. It wasn’t just because dogs and children tend to steal the show. It was because Nicolas Lell Benavides, the composer, and Marella Martin Koch, the librettist, found a way to sketch complete characters in swift sure lines.
The most entertaining show of the fledgling trio of operas was Pepito, in large part, no doubt, because the titled character was a big, shaggy dog, — a role sung, howled and barked effectively by Samuel Weiser. But what started as what I thought might be a gimmick demonstrated as it went on a growing understanding of methodical approach and material by the young creative team.
“Of the three twenty-minute operas, the Dresser's favorite was the comic opera Pepito about a somewhat mismatched couple who shows up last minute at an animal shelter wanting to adopt a dog, preferably a puppy... The music, especially the duet about "the right dog" that is between Camila (soprano Alexandra Nowakowski) and Pepito, lingers in memory.”
Karren LaLonde Alenier, Scene4
”A lighter comic tone distinguished the third world premiere, Pepito, with music by Nicolas Lell Benavides and libretto by Marella Martin Koch. The title character is a dog abandoned in a shelter, whose first lines are barks and whines, eventually becoming words. …
Benavides achieved the greatest variety of textures and sounds in this accomplished score, with hints of Latin percussion and an affecting love duet between a girl and her dog-to-be.”
Charles T. Downey, Washington Classical Review
The evening also featured the world premiere of Nicolas Lell Benavides’s Rinconcito for guitar, violin, viola, and cello. The title comes from the song “Rinconcito En El Cielo” (A Little Piece of Heaven) by the Mexican composer, singer, and accordion virtuoso Ramón Ayala. Benavides did not quote the musical material of the song, instead using the title to evoke his own childhood memories and also to serve as a stimulus to explore his own Mexican roots for the first time in his music. The result was an evocative serenade that created a particularly striking use of the guitar and string trio combination.”
Anyone who thinks classical music is going the way of the telephone booth needs to be kidnapped by the Guerrilla Composers Guild (GCG) and taken to the Center for New Music holding pen, indented into the side of the Golden Gate Theater building just off Market Street on Taylor. Thursday night, dozens of new-music lovers crammed into the concert space to hear the evolving group Phonochrome and friends play six new chamber works by as many worthy composers. Almost everyone — performers, composers, and, most significantly, audience members — was apparently under 30. I can now die in peace knowing art music will continue to prosper.
What can be said about the music of this generation, at least as propounded by Les Six Nouveaux? There’s hardly a trace of hard-core modernism. While there are a few remnants of postminimalism, for the most part the music is what used to be called the “New” but is now the “Standard” Eclecticism — that is, whatever style suits the idea. The music is suffused, as well, with a fair dose of sectionality, short-attention-span-ism, or what one might call Suite Thinking. Boredom is not an option. There also seems to be a welcome resurgence of melodic and harmonic priority going into this music. Speaking in Early Telephone Booth lingo, my Hat Is Off to all concerned with this Guerrilla enterprise.
…Next came the sadly reflective moods of GCG founder Nick Benavides’ “…none of us were overly concerned” “elegy for past and present victims of chemical warfare,” for flute cello and piano. Not a note was wasted in its seven-minute length.
...It, along with Nick Benavides' wonderfully structured and harmonically imaginative setting of e.e. cummings i thank you God for most this amazing day, were the most arresting pieces of the evening... The judge’s tastes were well aligned with mine.
Inspired by Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Benavides aimed to create whimsical music, which would nonetheless appeal to adults. While the piece does adopt techniques, including thick embellishments, that conjure Baroque music, the harmonies and resultant musical portraits sound diverse and modern. My favorite was the fourth — an unmeasured, quasi-improvisatory prelude motivated by a tale about a sad guard dog.
The program swung wildly in another direction with Luiz Bonfá’s bossa nova song Manhã de Carnaval (also known as Black Orpheus). It’s the kind of song that often pads a shorter half of a program, but was newly intriguing in this peculiar trio arrangement, understated and almost melancholy, by LCCE’s managing director Nick Benavides.