After six years of exploring Los Angeles, Ventura County and Santa Catalina Island, the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series has discovered Orange County.
Three programs Sunday in San Juan Capistrano will expand a tradition that began in Europe and which, more recently, has proved popular on the West Coast.
Chamber music was originally written for the intimate salons in private European residences, not large concert halls.
The series, brainchild of musicologist MaryAnna Bonino, returns the music to the kind of intimate surroundings for which it was written.
"I got the idea in Europe, where it happens all the time," Bonino said. "It's taken for granted there. Those are the buildings they live in. Here it's such a surprise. I was born here (in Los Angeles), and even I thought it was all Route 66."
The West Coast series has been a rousing success, Bonino said.
"We've doubled the number of concerts and our budget every year," Bonino said in a recent phone interview from her office at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles.
"We started with three. This year, we have 50 concerts, and our budget is $250,000. In fact, the series has become so popular, we are licensing it. There's already a series in Seattle. We'll have one in Boston next year."
Sponsored by the Da Camera Society, which produces chamber music programs, the series will debut in Orange County with "Springtime in Capistrano" programs at three locations Sunday:
-- The Sala de Libros y Artes in the San Juan Capistrano Library at noon. Tandem--a piano-vibraphone duo--will perform music by Chick Corea, Sheila Silver, John Cage and David Saperstein.
-- The Children's Wing of the Library at 2 p.m. Miles Anderson will present music for trombone, violin and electronics. Part of his program is a collaboration with Darren and Claire Chase, ages 11 and 8.
-- St. John of Capistrano Church at 4 p.m. John Curry will conduct members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in Gregorian chants and motets by Victoria. Music for brass ensemble by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli also will be on the program.
Bonino, director of the Da Camera Society, chose San Juan Capistrano for the first local venture because the town "has a nice and interesting cluster of buildings all within walking distance," she said. "Also, the San Juan Capistrano name has the most romantic allure."
Bonino said that, for musical reasons, she rejects eight or nine out of every 10 sites she inspects. But she finds the acoustics in the new St. John of Capistrano Church "brilliant, expansive, reverberant and very grateful for the voice."
The library, too, makes an attractive aural setting for concerts, and with "its bold, contemporary design, it cries out for contemporary music. I chose piano and vibraphone because they could crackle in that room."
In the past, however, not every site has worked out.
"Once I programmed a string quartet in a building with a big marble, reverberant lobby," Bonino said. "I even brought in rugs to dampen the sound. But it didn't work.
"You just never know until you do it. Even if I were to bring in a violin and try it out, it wouldn't be the same. So I've acquired a sixth sense and a fatalistic attitude. Every night is opening night."
Tickets for the three-concert series are $50. Tickets for individual programs range from $15 to $25. Bonino dismisses the charge that there is something elitist and exclusive about the whole endeavor.
"Price is just a factor of the size of the room," she said. "The cost of concert production is the same whether there are 15 or 500 people in a room. The performers have to be paid. And I would submit, the prices are not that high. Go to a restaurant and see what you can get out of it."
She added that the society often has offered student rush tickets for $5, provided the concert is not sold out.
"People set such a low figure on classical music," she said. "But what about (the cost of) rock concerts?"