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SOUNDS

Symphony's Opening Is Harmonious : Contract negotiations caused pre-season discord. But orchestra's first concert was smooth and put a local composer in the limelight.

October 20, 1994|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

All the pieces were in place and everything seemed right with the world, momentarily.

On Oct. 8, the curtain went up at Oxnard Civic Auditorium and the big, lush, propulsive orchestral sound of the Ventura County Symphony gushed off the stage. Maestro Boris Brott, now settling in as cultural fixture in the county rather than the new kid in town, returned to launch his third season at the helm.

Forget Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky, the "Russian Masters" of the concert's title. Oxnard's own Wunderkind composer/pianist Miguel del Aguila stole the show with the premiere of his animated, engaging piece "Conga." In it, Aguila taps into both Latin American and European classical elements, interweaving and knocking traditions together with affection and sly irreverence.

Further enhancing regional pride, this work of art was graciously funded by the City of Ventura Cultural Affairs. In general, the Ventura County Symphony was up to its ever-increasing standards.

Of course, as with many things boasting a polished veneer, all was not as right as it seemed. The operative word was tentative. The symphony, in a continuing effort to advance itself, ran up against troubled contract negotiations with its players before the season began. A strike was threatened, but they managed to hammer out a temporary agreement, ensuring that the show would go on.

One hopes that all will be well. The upcoming eight-concert season holds great promise. Unfortunately, last year's provocative Musics Alive! series of chamber music concerts, focusing on contemporary and world music, is not continuing, but there are other signs of progress. Most notably, the symphony will pass another milestone this week when it takes the stage at the new, much-adoed Civic Arts Auditorium.

Wednesday night's concert in Thousand Oaks will be an impressionistic feast under the heading of "A Ravel Spectacular." Included on the program are "Rhapsodie Espagnole," "Daphnis et Chloe, Suite 2," "Alborada del gracioso," "Pavane pour une infante defunte" and that ever-popular, classic turned soundtrack for amour, "Bolero."

Although the Conejo Valley Symphony has been officially crowned the resident orchestra of the new arts citadel, the Ventura County Symphony will grace the stage three times this season. Aside from the "Ravel" concert this week, they will return to Thousand Oaks next spring, to perform "La Boheme" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Hopefully, the Ventura County Symphony will make the cross-county trek for seasons to come. The ensemble's presence would fulfill the Civic Arts Plaza's built-in mandate as a countywide entity.

Thus far in his tender tenure at the podium, Brott has achieved his goal of shaping up the orchestra and filling seats, if not always paying as much heed to the music of our time as some would hope. Still, this season features three premieres of pieces by composers in the area: Aguila's "Conga," Enrique Gonzalez's "El Amanecer en el Desierto de Altar" and Dwight Stone's "Fanfare 2010."

All told, Brott will be less of a presence in the county this year, gone from October until the Feb. 4 concert.

On May 6 and 7, Brott conducts Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," along with the Ventura County Master Chorale Women's Chorus and narrator Claire Bloom.

The gods of mediation and music-making permitting, it should be a fine season.

JAZZ ON PARADE

Aficianados of jazz that veers left will want to mark their calendars for this Saturday night at White Winds Studio in Montecito. Venerable pianist Horace Tapscott will come to town to perform a duet with the fine reed player Charles Owens.

Over the last 30 years, Tapscott has played a key role in developing an avant-garde-leaning jazz sensibility in inner-city Los Angeles, founding the Pan-African People's Arkestra. And Tapscott is no stranger to Santa Barbara, having recorded a series of captivating solo piano recordings at the Lobero Theater several years ago on the Nimbus label.

Be there.

SPEAKING OF THE 66

From another West Coast school entirely, all-too-modest tenor sax giant Pete Christlieb ventured up the road last Saturday night to play with the Johnny Vieth trio. As expected, Christlieb delivered choruses full of invention and witty brevity, and solos begging to be extended.

He counted off an effectively peculiar, medium swinging version of "Body and Soul" and took a refreshingly diagonal approach into "Stella by Starlight."

A fine evening of music was capped off with a loopy Latin-ized variation on "All the Things You Are."

Christlieb holds forth on some private middle ground between slick sauvity and an incurable sense of adventure. Here's hoping he comes back this way soon.

Details

* The Ventura County Symphony will perform "A Ravel Spectacular" at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Auditorium, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 643-8646.

* Horace Tapscott and Charles Owens will perform Saturday at White Winds Studio, 113 Middle Road, Montecito, 969-5718. Shows are at 7 and 9 p.m. and tickets are $15.

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