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MUSIC/DANCE : Made to Order for Debussy Ensemble

November 10, 1994|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers classical music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

If you want to play classical music for harp, flute and viola, you're in for an eye-opener. There isn't all that much music out there for you.

Which is why the L.A.-based Debussy Trio--harpist Marcia Dickstein, flutist Angela Wiegand and violist Keith Greene--has commissioned about a dozen works since it was founded in 1987.

"We definitely feel a need for new repertory," Dickstein said. "That's the reason we exist. We need new stuff."

But it doesn't explain why the "new stuff" also reaches beyond the classical world and into jazz.

"Part of our desire," Dickstein said, "is to expand beyond the typical whatever classical composers try to give."

So the three recently turned to jazz composer and keyboardist Lyle Mays, a charter member of the Pat Metheny Group, who wrote "Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle" for them. The Trio will give the premiere performances at 8 p.m. today in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Dickstein said she picked Mays because she has long admired him.

"I want to commission my heroes and get to play with them a little bit."

He is is not the first jazz composer to write for them, however. In 1991, the highly regarded but little known Vince Mendoza put together "Trio Music."

"I had a list of about four or five people I was interested in getting music from," she said. "Some people said 'Yes, but down the road.' Some said they didn't want to deal with the challenge. (Mays) was very open to the idea and was free.

"He's composed for classical and jazz. He's crossed over. But he never wrote for a harp before. I'm always interested in people who are new to the idea and what they do for the instrument. They're not so rigid. They go beyond the edges and come up sometimes with a new perspective."

In offering the commission, Dickstein didn't dictate anything except the length.

"We'll usually set up some sort of time frame, 15 to 20 minutes at the most. At this point, it doesn't really matter what we ask for. They give us what they want to. They tend to come in pretty close time-wise, but as far as musical ideas, I have nothing to do with that."

On "Twelve Days," which Dickstein described as "a complex piece of music," the process was collaborative.

"He and I talked a lot on the phone and sent faxes back and forth, with questions and answers," she explained. "He was incredibly diligent and committed. Being a pianist is very different from being a harpist. It's easy to be lured into harp-writing as if you're writing for the piano. It looks the same on the page, but it's different in the hands. You have to know how it feels in your hand."

To get that feel, Mays took harp lessons.

"It's played so differently from a piano, I felt I had to know a lot more about it before I could write for it," he said.

He found a harpist who plays in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, near his home outside Madison. She "was kind enough to gear some lessons from the compositional standpoint. Basically, I was picking her brain."

Crossing over between the two music worlds isn't such a stretch, Mays added.

"They're not all that different--jazz and classical music. There is a huge difference between a jazz player and a classical player, but I don't think there is much difference between a jazz player and a composer. A good (jazz) player has to come up with compositions on the spot. In classical, there are questions of making it more formal--and there are a ton of other differences--but I think the leap is less in composition than in performance."

Mays came up with the title "Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle" because of a personal experience.

"The majority of the piece was written when our family was experiencing a lot of difficulties," Mays said. "My partner's father had a crisis with Parkinson's disorder. At one point in the middle of this crisis, he had a marvelous recovery with some drug therapy.

"It reminded me very much of what (neurologist-author) Oliver Sacks wrote about in 'Awakenings.' I was struck how he described these recoveries as miraculous. It was one of the few times that he felt the word could be used in modern medicine. It was quite an event. So I felt this was indeed miraculous. It affected us all, especially me."

* Who: The Debussy Trio with Soprano Susan Alexander.

* When: Today, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m.

* Where: Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Avenue and exit north to Town Center Drive. Take a right.

* Wherewithal: $20 general, $8 students.

* Where to call: (714) 556-2787.

MORE MUSIC/DANCE:

Led by Janos Rolla, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Budapest will play works by Marcello, Bach, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, with guitarist Angel Romero. Sponsored by the Philharmonic Society. (714) 556-2787.

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos will conduct the Vienna Symphony in music by Brahms, Strauss and Webern on Monday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. Sponsored by the Philharmonic Society. (714) 556-2787.

The Parsons Dance Company will appear with the Billy Taylor Trio in "Step Into My Dream" on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 14-15, at 8 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The program will also include Parsons' "Touched by Time," Taylor originals and jazz standards. (714) 854-4646.

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