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MUSIC REVIEW : CalArts Musicians in Showcase Program at Japan America


Halfway through its April agenda, the CalArts Spring Festival sent nearly 60 musicians from Valencia all the way downtown for a showcase program at the Japan America Theatre in Little Tokyo.

The trip to the Green Umbrella Series--sponsored by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., uncredited in the printed program--was successful in that it served as a reminder that the next generation of new-music players stands always in the wings of the present generation. Sometimes pointing in another direction.

The two thrusts of this program--given Monday night and enlisting the services of 53 singers and instrumentalists, two working conductors and three CalArts-affiliated composers--were not forward, but sideways.

Gorgeous but regressive, two engrossing works by Amiya Dasgupta, the longtime CalArts faculty member from India, tilled ancient musical modes with contemporary enthusiasms, in the second half of the program.

Conducted by Paul Vorwerk, the CalArts Chamber Choir sang Dasgupta's haunting "Beauty of God," three folksong-flavored pieces of palpable emotional resonance.

Then, to close the evening, an ensemble of 13 played and sang "Sur-o-Chanda," a 10-minute aural delight, at once virtuosic, provocative and irresistible.

Among the performers were harpist Susan Allen, tabla-player Swapan Chaudhuri, sitarists Paul Livingstone and Gernot Blume, and Pedro Eustache on basuri.

More anarchic works occupied the first half.

Salvatore Martirano's "LON/dons" for 15 instruments, as conducted breezily by David Rosenboom, director of the 1993 festival, titillates the ear, explores timbres and counterpoises showy solo flights, all within a near-jazzy idiom. Among the featured virtuosos in this performance were saxophonist Chris Bleth, oboist Allan Vogel and clarinetist William Powell.

Wildly (purposefully?) chaotic is Roscoe Mitchell's "Variations and Sketches From the Bamboo Terrace," for 21 solo instruments (again conducted by Rosenboom), which occupies 20 apparently disjointed minutes with a frustrating mix of random instrumental conjunctions, vocal solos--sung most effectively by soprano Jacqueline Bobak when her colleagues did not cover her--and general musical mayhem.

Perhaps simultaneity, not cohesiveness, is the point here. If it is, the piece works. If not . . .

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