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SOUNDS AROUND TOWN

Conductor to Offer Musical Samples From Around Globe : Boris Brott plans to experiment with melding sounds from China, Indonesia and India.

September 23, 1993|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was a year ago now that the Ventura County music community quivered with excitement, and perhaps some trepidation, over the news trumpeted in the Ventura County Symphony's season program: "Boris Is Coming!"

Last year's season amounted to a significant transition in the symphony's history. Canadian conductor Boris Brott became only the second conductor in the organization's 30-year history, and he infused an admirable degree of energy into the business of filling seats and improving the musical caliber of the orchestra.

Quibblers took exception to the notable conservatism of a program that gave short shrift to 20th Century music--especially by comparison to previous conductor Frank Salazar's venturesome spirit.

Now approaching is the downbeat of the new conductor's sophomore season. Or, to quote this year's cheeky marketing slogan on the season program: "Boris Is Back!" Note the return of the hallowed exclamation point.

From early indications, this year's program begins to seriously address last season's inadequacies. Stock Romantic and classical fare at the official Oxnard Civic Auditorium concerts is counterbalanced by an inventive "Music's Alive!" series, planned for smaller venues around the county.

For these three concerts early next year, the music of contemporary composers, who will be present for audience discussions, will be combined with examples of world music from China, Indonesia and India.

"I've never done this before," Brott said of the series, "but I've long been convinced of the international aspect of contemporary music. This ability to communicate with rapidity in the global village has become the hallmark of so much of life activity. We're closing borders politically and musically.

"Of course, it's natural that composers living in the global village become subject to the influence of other cultures."

Brott feels that this multicultural melding has a particular resonance on the "eastern edge of the Pacific Rim." Securing musical resources for the series has been a process mainly of exploring what already exists in Southern California.

"There are so many resources here," he said. "We haven't had to bring in a gu-zheng player from China, nor a gamelan orchestra, because we have them at CalArts."

Speaking of crossing borders, when Brott recently talked to a reporter from his home base in Hamilton, Canada, the ever-roving conductor had on his travel itinerary conducting stints in Atlanta, Dallas and Montreal, before arriving in Ventura to prepare for the symphony's season debut on Oct. 2.

"It's a very peripatetic existence," Brott sighed. "That's the way conductors seem to live these days. It doesn't marry very well with family, but I have a very understanding one."

The symphony's opening concert will feature the music of Elgar, Prokofiev and a new work by Ventura composer John Biggs. The notable Ventura soprano Geraldine Decker will be the soloist of the evening.

Brott re-enters the local circuit armed with the wisdom of a season in the trenches. He said of his inaugural year: "It was a learning experience for me to find out a little more about what motivated Venturans to go to concerts and what was necessary in order to make it more of a communal experience, and what was necessary, too, in the development of the orchestra.

"It's been a year of discovery for the orchestra, the audience and me. Having discovered certain things, it allows us to progress from this point forward. Certainly, the members of the orchestra are cognizant of working in a more confined space in terms of time, the certain professional requirements."

The process of smoothly revamping and improving the orchestra brings with it growing pains. "You have an interesting mix of town and city in the orchestra," Brott noted. "This is changing and will continue to change toward a more professional component. I'm hoping, of course, that this change can be a gradual and an accommodating one, as opposed to a lurching one, as it were.

"There have been many people who, after many years of service without which this orchestra could not have survived, have decided that this rigorous schedule is not for them, and have decided to put their attention elsewhere, or to retire, for that matter. That leaves space for younger musicians and a greater degree of professionalism to come in."

Brott readily admits that "one of the disappointing elements in last year was that, while aligning the series' offerings to Romantic and classical masters series, I wasn't able to accommodate the sort of contemporary outreach that I very much want to do."

"But I couldn't do it all at once, of course," he said. "It has to be done slowly and continues to have to be done slowly, because if we don't, we won't survive in this kind of fiscal climate."

For Brott, who has worked in arts-friendly countries outside the United States, there has been the issue of facing a different system of resources in keeping an orchestra alive.

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