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MUSIC REVIEW : Phoenix Symphony in Local Debut

March 23, 1993|TIMOTHY MANGAN

Multiculturalism in art has produced any number of works questionable in merit, but American composer James DeMars' new piece, the "Two World" Concerto for flute and orchestra, is not one of them.

Heard in its local premiere Sunday at Royce Hall, with soloist R. Carlos Nakai and the Phoenix Symphony the persuasive performers, the work made a powerful first impression. This is canny, vital and exotic music.

In his mixture of the folk and the symphonic, the simple, arcane and splashy, DeMars has chosen his models carefully. Bartok, Vaughan Williams and Crumb are obvious predecessors. Yet the flute music seems entirely and touchingly uncompromised by all of this, as it floats its plaintive and mystical way through the surrounding turmoil.

With Nakai's cedar flute sensitively amplified, he was able to intone his sustained lines delicately, with their expressive decorations, their quiet yips and bends, coming through clearly. DeMars' orchestration uses a huge battery of percussion of both European and American Indian varieties to great dramatic effect, and the eclecticism of his music, its wide range of expression--from spacey harmonics to pulsing minimalism, from poetic night music to gut-thumping roars--remains focused.

Nakai, of Navajo-Ute heritage, proved an unflappable soloist, in braids and tuxedo. James Sedares led the orchestra forcefully.

After intermission, Sedares, now in his fourth season as music director of this excellent orchestra (founded in 1947), turned to the fustian of Saint-Saens' Third Symphony, in a highly energetic, unabashedly emphatic and--some early lapses aside--polished reading. Cherry Rhodes dusted off the Royce Hall pipes with nimble abandon.

Sedares and the Phoenixers, in the group's local debut, opened the concert with an elegantly nuanced yet full-bodied account of Mozart's Symphony No. 33.

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