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Mel Powell--more Is Less

March 03, 1985|DANIEL CARIAGA and CHRISTOPHER PASLES

CalArts composer Mel Powell keeps his music spare and to the point. "I have this old-fashioned idea," he explains. "I still believe that beauty consists in the most music in the shortest space."

As an example, the Powell program Friday night at 9:30, second event at the ninth CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, will take "just a little more than an hour."

"Strand Settings: Darker," centerpiece of the program, was written last year for Jan DeGaetani and was first performed at Lincoln Center in New York City last fall.

Powell says the piece, which uses texts by Mark Strand of Utah, marks the first time he has used words by a living American poet.

"I'm very fussy," Powell says. "I find the work of most living American poets to be think-poetry, and I'd just as soon set the telephone book. But Mark Strand is the exception--an honest-to-goodness lyric poet."

"Strand Settings: Darker" highlights a program of six recent compositions by Powell that will be performed by violinist Yoko Matsuda, singers Judith Bettina and Joan LaBarbara, pianist Aki Takahashi, the Sierra Woodwind Quintet and the Sequoia Quartet.

The oldest work chronologically is a new Nocturne for violin solo which the composer acknowledges he "arranged from a piece I wrote for Rafael Druian, Marni Nixon and quadraphonic tape when I first arrived here in 1970." Powell says he has removed the voice and tape parts and reduced the work from 14 minutes to seven.

Newest of the six works is the Woodwind Quintet commissioned (and to be performed) by the Sierra Quintet from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

"I hate those concerts where the program notes are more interesting than the music," comments Powell, declining to say anything more about his new work, except that the performers have expressed strong approval of it.

Except for the recent Intermezzo Powell wrote for Takahashi for her birthday (in November), the remainder of the program are song-cycles.

"Settings" was written in 1979 for LaBarbara (who will perform it here, assisted by members of the California E.A.R. Unit). Powell describes it as five separate texts, from poets as far apart as Euripides, James Joyce and Milton.

"Little Companion Pieces" (1979) for soprano and string quartet, first introduced locally at the 1980 CalArts Festival, were originally intended to follow Schoenberg's Second Quartet.

The Powell program is one of 11 formal concerts and four satellite events that make up the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, beginning Thursday and concluding March 11.

As before, the bulk of activity will take place on CalArts' Valencia campus. However, this festival will begin and end with concerts at the Japan America Theatre downtown.

BERLIOZ: Hector Berlioz's "dramatic legend," "La Damnation de Faust," has never been long out of the standard repertory. The coincidence this month is that it reappears at two of our local symphonic outlets in the same week.

Saturday night, Jorge Mester conducts his Pasadena Symphony, four vocal soloists and the 150 combined voices of the William Hall Chorale, Chapman College Concert Choir and the Pasadena Boys Choir, in a complete performance of the cantata. The solo singers will be Kimball Wheeler (Marguerite), John Aler (Faust), Leslie Guinn (Mephistopheles) and Christopher Deane (Brander). The performance takes place in Pasadena Civic Auditorium at 8:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Neeme Jarvi concludes his two-week engagement with the orchestra, this week with a program including three symphonic excerpts from "La Damnation de Faust." Wednesday through Friday nights at 8:30, then next Sunday afternoon at 2:30, Jarvi will lead an agenda offering these excerpts, Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos (with Katia and Marielle Labeque the soloists) and Slavonic Dances by Dvorak. Wednesday the dances will be the set from Opus 46; for the remainder of the week, they will be the set from Opus 72.

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