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MUSIC/DANCE : STICKLER FOR STANDARDS : Christopher Warren-Green Didn't Like the Players He Inherited--So He Canned Them

October 27, 1994|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers classical music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

Christopher Warren-Green is unusual among conductors. He'd rather his musicians--the London Chamber Orchestra--didn't work too much. At least, not for him.

"I want to have people who have their own careers," he explained. "I believe that's the only way to get a higher standard of player."

Warren-Green was 32 when he took over the group in 1988. Founded in 1921, it was the oldest chamber orchestra in Great Britain. But it had deteriorated.

"The orchestra was slightly in the doldrums," he said. "Players had left. The standards were not very high. To be honest, the very first time the job was offered to me, I didn't want to take it. Then they came back to me and said, 'To be honest, we'd rather you re-form the orchestra.' So I sacked . . . all the players."

To revamp the group, which will be playing Friday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre under the auspices of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, Warren-Green assembled a nucleus of only 13 musicians. Though the group performs at home with as many as 22 players, Warren-Green is bringing 14 players on its first U.S. tour.

"I would far rather have really good quality players than augment the ranks and then risk somebody not being equal to the others," he said. When not part of the orchestra, the musicians pursue solo careers, perform in chamber groups or other orchestras.

A kind of musical whiz kid, Warren-Green joined the prestigious Academy of St. Martin in the Fields as a fiddler when he was 19. He became concertmaster of the BBC Welsh Symphony at 21, concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London at 24 and returned to St. Martin's as concertmaster at 30. He stayed there until he moved to the LCO.

As if that's not enough, he also teaches at the Royal Academy of Music and plays a Habaneck Stradivarius on loan from the academy.

And yes, he's another conductor-violinist in the tradition of Neville Marriner, who formed St. Martin's in 1959.

"My dream was really to do both--play and direct from the violin and conduct when necessary," Warren-Green said. "It wasn't one career or the other. More and more instrumentalists do that."

He plays standing up and insists that most of the other musicians stand up, too.

"They can make more sound that way. They play much better. We even record that way."

The recordings and concerts have earned enthusiastic reviews. But when the group began playing at rock festivals in Europe, several critics got upset.

"They said, 'Oh, they've sold out to commercialization.' Nothing could be further from the truth. You're taking a hell of a risk playing at a rock festival. Rock audiences essentially will throw bottles at you if they don't like you."

But Warren-Green likes reaching such a broad audience.

"Music--for me, if you can describe art at all--is anything that makes you feel, right across the board. And I am absolutely dedicated to get new music to the people, especially young people who really love 20th-Century so-called 'classical music.' But they're not just getting it. So they're going to ('The Piano' composer) Michael Nyman."

* What: The London Chamber Orchestra, led by Christopher Warren-Green.

* When: Friday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m.

* Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the Jamboree Road exit and head south. Turn left onto Campus Drive. The theater is on Campus near Bridge Road, across from the Marketplace mall.

* Wherewithal: $14 to $25.

* Where to call: (714) 553-2422 (the O.C. Philharmonic Society) or (714) 854-4646.

MORE MUSIC/DANCE

IN IRVINE: FLAMENCO

The Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco troupe will dance "Estampa Flamenca" and "Aires de Selencio" (choreographed by Joaquin Ruis) on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. (714) 854-4646.

IN COSTA MESA: FOLK BALLET

Khadra, an international folk ballet group from San Francisco, will offer music and dances of Argentina, Russia, Appalachia and elsewhere Saturday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. in the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College. (714) 432-5880.

IN IRVINE: NATIVE AMERICAN DANCE

Music and dances of the Zuni, the Lakota, the Yup'ik and the Cherokee will be part of the "From Plains and Pueblos" program Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. (714) 854-4646.

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