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SOUNDS AROUND TOWN

Classical Music Groups Add Bright Note to Spring : The chamber orchestra, county symphony and an Ojai Festival warm-up concert showcase array of talents.

April 22, 1993|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spring has sprung and Ventura County's classical music landscape has been having a field day.

Two weeks ago, the Ventura County Symphony gave an extravagant nod to Rossini in the form of a belated 200th birthday celebration. Last Saturday, the Ventura County Chamber Orchestra gave the second concert in its young life.

And, at Ojai's Thacher School last Sunday, there was a special concert for Ojai Festival patrons, signaling the approach of the Ojai Festival--the obvious highlight of the county's musical year.

The chamber orchestra, led by Burns Taft, offered a highly satisfying program at the Ventura College auditorium, one that boded well for this fledgling ensemble's future.

Befitting the season, the concert's centerpiece was the compact chamber version of Copland's "Appalachian Spring," sandwiched by cleanly articulated Mozartia.

Part of the joy of hearing the Copland work, besides the refined and well-balanced performance of the orchestra, had to do with the minor revelation of hearing an utterly familiar piece in an altered setting.

Copland originally wrote the ballet "Appalachian Spring" in a chamber setting in 1943. But it was the more grandiose orchestral adaptation, dating from 1949, that has earned its stripes as a concert warhorse.

Here, in this pared-down context, it's easier to observe the trajectory of the parts, and the sum thereof.

The narrative subtext of Copland's piece is a kind of episodic "Scenes From a Marriage" portrait, with the emotional tides shifting from festive to reflective to turbulent to affirmative.

As hummingly popular as many of the "Appalachian" themes are, there is always an undercurrent of sophistication at work here, as with most of Copland's music.

He remains in that peculiar and paradoxical position, at once overappreciated and underappreciated, for all the right and wrong reasons. If remembered as America's great populist composer, Copland always kept a progressive agenda beneath the clear-eyed open harmonies on the surface.

From the Mozart files came crisp readings of the Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 186a--written when the composer was 18--and the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, K 14.01. Featured soloists were oboist Joel Timm, clarinetist Dominick Fera, French horn player James Thatcher and bassoonist David Riddles.

An encore of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" brought the concert to an almost beatific close.

The chamber orchestra recently announced its first full season of four concerts. Bolstered by the sturdy stuff of Bach and Mozart, the season also offers such enticing 20th-Century works as Ives' Third Symphony, Stravinsky's Octet and Schoenberg's "Transfigured Night," to give a sense of musical-historical balance.

Launching a new musical organism is no small feat, but sometimes it seems driven by need. Does Ventura County need a chamber orchestra? Without a doubt. All the right pieces seem to be in place.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

The spirit of Rossini--frivolity mixed with passion--descended on Oxnard two weeks ago, when the Ventura County Symphony served up an abridged, concert reading of "The Barber of Seville." A shamelessly feel-good--but also abidingly musical--time was had by all.

Punctuated by new conductor Boris Brott's cheeky plot summaries, the production came equipped with minimal yet effective touches. Props--a patch of parquet floor, a balcony, a table--helped to set the stage. But the super titles at times seemed disorienting and out-of-synch with the singers.

Overall, a fine comic air and effortless technical grace marked the concert, with especially fine vocal work by soprano Kerry Walsh, as Rosina, the object of desire, and by tenor George DeMott-Bovenzi, as the deceiving suitor Count Almaviva.

As for the concert context of the opera, there seemed to be something inherently honest about the orchestra sharing the stage with the singers--opera being a patently irrational art form anyway.

Brott cleverly played up this incongruity, having the musicians serve as an ad-hoc chorus at one point, and providing sound effects at other points.

Continuing the trend of finding new corporate funding at the Ventura County Symphony under Brott, this concert came with the corporate imprimatur of Texaco. The oil company has been known to splash money in the direction of opera with its longstanding sponsorship of the New York Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts.

Gratitude may have gotten the better of good taste, though, with Brott's fawning paean to Texaco in the concert program. Suffice it to say, the honchos at Texaco will be glad to know that this was a breezy, neatly executed evening of music-making in Oxnard.

Ojai Countdown

As happened last spring, the Ojai Festival put on a special concert for patrons last Sunday at the picturesque Thacher School.

Last year's concert featured works by Ventura composer John Biggs. This year, Santa Barbara-based composer Emma Lou Diemer was the compositional and musical guest of honor.

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