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Cambridge Duo Offers Classic Fun

March 07, 1986|CHRIS PASLES

Will success spoil the Cambridge Buskers?

Two years ago, this improbable flute and accordion duo was becoming well known for its fine musicianship and zany parodies of the classics.

Now, four recordings (for Deutsche Grammophon) and several international concert tours later, flutist Michael Copley and accordionist Dag Ingram have gained the kind of fame that keeps them touring the world's concert halls nine months out of the year.

The British musicians will make their first Orange County stop Saturday at 8 p.m. at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton in a concert sponsored by Cal State Fullerton.

Fans may wonder whether success will induce this duo to abandon the fine, serious aspects of their playing to offer more crowd-pleasing burlesque--a decline that, unhappily, afflicted the Canadian Brass, another group that made a name for itself by mixing comedy with "straight" playing.

"We'd never go totally into clowning," Copley insisted before a performance in La Jolla recently.

"We don't want to destroy the balance of the programs. In the new pieces we learn, we keep the same ratio of serious to parody pieces."

"We've developed alarm systems for ourselves," Ingram said. "We look at each other and whisper under our breaths, and at times we've changed plans midway through a concert."

"We practice a great deal more than we used to because the music we're doing is more difficult all the time," Copley said. "And we're always discarding pieces. Every rehearsal session starts with a great pile of pieces--and by the end, 10% of it is left. It's a strict selection process."

Yet, Ingram said, they fear that their performances "would slowly become jaded and unmusical" if they lost contact with their street origins.

"With that danger in mind, we still play on the streets and at parties," he said.

As a duo, the Buskers were born on the streets. ( Busker is an English term for an itinerant street musician.) While students at Cambridge University in England, Copley and Ingram began playing on London street corners one day to raise train fare to return to Cambridge. Their lighthearted arrangements of the classics quickly charmed passers-by, and soon their careers were launched.

Even so serious a composer as Karlheinz Stockhausen found their playing irresistible. Hearing them on the streets of Cologne one day, Stockhausen was so pleased that he arranged his "Tierkreis" for the duo and sent it to them.

As part of their new-found success, the Buskers have begun to perform with small orchestras in Canada, and in September they will tour the Mediterranean with the English Chamber Orchestra.

"We have a number of arrangements, light-hearted stuff," Copley said. "I play in a straightforward Vivaldi concerto. But mostly the orchestra does its show, and we do ours."

Although Copley, 29, plays flute, recorder, whistle, slide, krummhorn and more than two dozen other wind instruments in the performances, he is ever on the lookout for new instruments.

"Recently I ordered a racket (a Renaissance woodwind instrument)," he said. "It's just an extraordinary little thing. It looks like a pepper pot and is very small, but it makes an incredibly rude noise.

"People hoped it had died out, but I've revived it."

For his part, Ingram, 30, provides lots of deadpan mugging and squeezes up a storm on a pint-size accordion, which he bought for $10. Its range is two octaves.

Undeterred by the apparent limitations of these instruments, however, the Buskers play Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," Tchaikovsky's "1812" Overture and a 30-second run-through of the third movements of the nine Beethoven symphonies.

Recently, they added Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. "We have everything in it but the strings," Copley said.

"What we do is not straight music," he continued. "We take lots of music seriously, of course, but there's a lot more humor in music than people realize.

"Rossini and Satie wrote deliberately funny music. But, also, a lot of classical music can be pompous--not in the way it was written, but in the religious way it's treated. Wagner cries out for parody sometimes.

"Classical music concerts can be very off-putting, very stiff. But ours are a very social form of music-making."

Now on tour in the Southland, Ingram finds that "life on the road in the States is composed of avoiding motel rooms. Whenever we can, we like staying with friends, sponsors--anyone who will have us."

Copley, characteristically, looks at the bright side: "Life on the road is not as tough as touring with a symphony, which is really hard work." When the two are touring on their own, "we're treated very well. We tend to make friends with our music-making," Copley said.

Still, he added: "We're surprised by our success. We had no idea it would end up like this."

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