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THE BIG MIX : Music : Ethnic Ensembles in the Los Angeles Area

February 05, 1989|DANIEL CARIAGA

In classical music, diverse organizations support the ethnic communities' desire to participate in mainstream concert activity. A number of these groups seem to spring up every season, and then produce one or fewer public events each year. As a result, they have little visibility and no discernible continuity.

But there are ongoing ethnic musical organizations with individual histories and a record of contributions to our musical life. But there are ongoing ethnic musical organizations with individual histories, and a record of genuine contributions to our musical life. Some have lasted, and continue to occupy fully their little niche in the scheme of things.

A few of them are listed here, in alphabetical order:

CONCORDIA ORCHESTRA--According to its founder, cellist-conductor Masatoshi Mitsumoto, the Concordia Orchestra is "the only multi-ethnic group" in this category.

"My idea was to form an inter-community orchestra for Los Angeles," says Mitsumoto. "That sometimes creates a difficulty of identity for the musicians." The conductor says he tries to hire the best players from the several ethnic communities. The ensemble gave its first concert in 1986 in Japan America Theatre, and has, in five subsequent events, performed there, and at the Gindi Auditorium on the Westside, among other places. Private and corporate funding, putting together a board, and building an audience are just a few of the problems Mitsumoto has encountered. Says he: "It's so difficult to survive." For its next concert--date and location not yet determined--Concordia will have between 30 and 50 players, the founder says.

JAPANESE PHILHARMONIC--Founded in 1961 by conductor Akira Kikukawa under auspices of the local Japanese Chamber of Commerce, the Japanese Philharmonic now gives five to six concerts a year on an annual budget of, according to the founder, more than $100,000. Its repertory combines standard symphonic works with more recent compositions by Asian composers writing in the Western idiom.

Though some of its 75-80 members (half that many for Baroque concerts, Kikukawa says) are union musicians, most of the members are not paid. The orchestra gives at least one performance annually at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In addition, it has played in recent seasons at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, at El Camino College, and at the Japan America Theatre. Its next concert is scheduled at the Music Center Feb. 22 at 8 p.m., when the soloists in Brahms' Double Concerto are violinist Yoshio Unno and cellist Nathaniel Rosen; the program lists also works by Liszt, and the Violin Concerto by Toyama.

JEWISH MUSIC FOUNDATION--Incorporated in 1986, the Jewish Music Foundation is, according to its director, pianist Neal Brostoff, "sort of a a combination of Monday Evening Concerts and Chamber Music in Historic Sites." That is, the foundation puts on a three-concert series annually, offering neglected chamber music repertory, often by forgotten Jewish composers, "and sometimes link the place to the music." Brostoff says the costs vary. In 1989-90, for instance, the season's budget will reach "about $32,000. But it was much less this season, and it could well be less in 1990-91."

KOREAN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA--For 21 years, Raymond Cho has led the 65-player Korean Philharmonic--"most of the players, at least two-thirds, are Korean-Americans," he says--in its annual concerts at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

Since Cho founded the group in 1968, he has also put together two other performing groups, the Korean American Youth Band and a Korean opera organization.

The concerts of this ensemble can be wildly eclectic, Cho says. At its most recent concert, Saturday night, his soloist was a Chinese soprano from Shanghai, Wei-Fang Wang, who sang Italian opera arias in Chinese. Annually, the group gives four or five concerts, the founder says, adding, "In 1988, because of the Olympics, we gave six." Annual budget: $90,000-plus.

MUSIC CIRCLE--Devoted to the art music of India, Music Circle, based in Pasadena, presents "between eight and 13 concerts a year," according to founder Harihar Rao. Since 1973, the year of its inception, the group has given concerts mostly in Herrick Chapel at Occidental College, though it has on occasion--for appearances by Ravi Shankar, for instance--moved to larger auditoriums.

The organization works within a budget of $32,000 "per a 10-month season," says Rao, and is sometimes able to arrange discounts to other Indian concerts in the area."

OLYMPIA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA--Founded last year by Fung Ho, this youngest of our ethnic orchestras was launched at a concert in San Gabriel Civic Auditorium at which the guest conductor was Masatoshi Mitsumoto (see above). Its audience at that time, and since, is said to be largely made up of members of the Chinese community. It played in Orange County two weeks ago.

LA SINFONICA DEL BARRIO--Incorporated in September, 1974, La Sinfonica del Barrio is, according to its founder and conductor, Pete Quesada, "an orchestra from and for the barrio." Made up mostly of university, college and high-school musicians--some of whom are union members, and therefore paid from Musicians' Trust Fund monies--the group gives "from one to seven concerts a year, depending on our financial situation."

The orchestra has played concerts at, among other places, Roosevelt High School, at UCLA, at USC, at Plaza de la Raza and in the barrios of the Eastside. Last weekend, it played a salute to African American Heritage month at St. Bridget's Catholic Church in South Central Los Angeles, performing with the large choir of St. Bridget's. But it has also appeared jointly with the Chinese Philharmonic of Monterey Park.

Annual budget: "Between $45,000 and $50,000," according to Quesada.

This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

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