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MUSIC REVIEW : Ventura Symphony Tests Thousand Oaks Hall


THOUSAND OAKS — Still in its inaugural week, the new auditorium at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza hosted its first guest orchestra Wednesday night. Under Music Director Boris Brott, the Ventura County Symphony gave a Ravel program that tested both its claims to virtuosity and the room's promise of acoustical fidelity and balanced resonance.

Sampled at three separate locations in the cubelike, 1,800-seat capacity auditorium, symphonic sounds from this ensemble emerged in the ear bright, live and projected.

Reports of acoustical mushiness from more than one critic attending the opening festivities last weekend--when a community orchestra from the neighborhood shared the stage with Bernadette Peters--were not confirmed in the playing of the Ventura group.

This growing orchestra may not yet have reached the plateau of achievement of some other regional ensembles--those in Santa Barbara or Costa Mesa, for instance--but it makes admirable sounds and apprehendable music most of the time. On this occasion, a few of its solo voices seemed weak, or nervous, or both.

Textural transparency and a concomitant layering of voices are principal requirements in music of Ravel. In the "Rapsodie Espagnole," the second suite from "Daphnis et Chloe," the "Pavane pour une enfant defunte" and "Bolero," the orchestra produced these virtues inconsistently, despite occasional string playing of genuine force and finesse.

Brott, an elegant and unobtrusive conductor with an unmannered authority, seems the right commander to lead these troops onto higher ground.

At the start of the evening, he led two non-Ravel pieces. First, he conducted "The Star-Spangled Banner" with high spirits, and facing his audience; then, he followed with a three-minute work written for the occasion, Dwight Stone's polychordal "Fanfare 2010," a bizarre hommage to, and paste-up of, Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra."

Visually, the 1,730 concertgoers gathered in the new hall--a discrepancy in numbers occurs when the orchestra occupies the space over the pit--were treated through the evening to an irritating distraction: indirect, changing, colored, back-wall lighting.

This took the form of patriotic red during the fanfare, lightened purple to accompany "Rapsodie Espagnole," an unsubtle Chinese red for "Daphnis," medium (perhaps baby?) blue for "Pavane" and an obvious crescendo of reds for "Bolero."

Maestro Brott seemed to take it in stride. One wonders what his putative mentor, the late Pierre Monteux, would have done.

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