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Jack Smith

Weekend of Culture Is Music to His Ears

August 28, 1995|Jack Smith

My wife, an indefatigable member of the Committee of Professional Women for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, drove me down to La Jolla on a recent weekend for the La Jolla Chamber Music Festival.

One could hardly have expected to absorb more culture (or more vodka) in three days.

We arrived in the village of La Jolla on Friday afternoon after a tedious drive down auto-clogged Interstate 5 and parked at the Inn by the Sea, where we were to stay.

That evening, after a buffet in the Sand Dollar Room, we attended a pre-concert lecture in the Parker Community Auditorium and then a concert by the La Jolla Chamber Orchestra.

I enjoy chamber music, most of it, that is, and was enchanted by Mozart's C minor Serenade for Wind Octet, Mendelssohn's String Quartet in A minor and Francaix's octet with clarinet, bassoon, French horn, two violins, two violas, a cello and a bass. (A program note told us that Francaix wrote the octet to employ the same eight instruments as those used in a Schubert octet that was to be on the same program. It isn't played often because it isn't easy to round up that mixture of players.)

After the concert, some of our group retired across the street to the Victoria Inn bar, where we imbibed according to our tastes and engaged in some informal group singing with other patrons. A waiter with a hearty tenor voice sang "Come Back to Sorrento" in Italian and we all joined in, singing "da da da da da Sorrento, da da da da da da da." It was culture indeed.

On Saturday we found our way to Rancho del Arte, a luxurious estate in Rancho Santa Fe, for a rehearsal of that evening's concert. The chamber in which the orchestra played was small and intimate, and the acoustics were extraordinary. We seemed to be sitting in the orchestra.

In seating us, an employee had cautioned us repeatedly, "Please don't disturb the occupants," apparently meaning the owners of the estate. I didn't see how we could be more disturbing than the orchestra. But it gave us a nice sense of intruding on the rich.


That evening we dined at Elario's, at the top of the Summer House Inn, and then climbed to the La Jolla Playhouse for a performance of "Slavs," a play by Tony Kushner. It is also to be performed at the Mark Taper Forum.

According to our notes, Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times, " 'Slavs' is the work of a brilliant imagination. Kushner's words dazzle, sing and prompt belly laughs."

Alas, while the actors' voices carried well in the outdoor environment, I had neglected to bring my hearing aids and much of the dialogue, which indeed caused belly laughs, was lost on me.

There was one passage I understood very well. It was when a woman character with a heavy accent loosed a string of unprintable epithets at a male character--probably a communist. The play evidently had to do with the failure of communism. Now and then I caught the names of Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev, but I missed the finer points.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at a nearby International House of Pancakes with our friends Jerry and Bonnie Luboviski, who live now in La Jolla. The Luboviskis said they hadn't liked "Slavs," which made me feel better.

After breakfast we drove home. As usual, when we travel that route, my wife stopped in Leucadia to shop for plants. I sat in the car thinking about culture in its various manifestations.

We certainly had been exposed to culture, though I hadn't understood all of it. Well, I thought, culture ought to be a little over one's head if one is to be elevated by it.

I did learn, however, that I should use my hearing aids. Otherwise, the only thing I'm going to get out of the theater is dirty words. At our ages, and degrees of sophistication, that is hardly the kind of culture we seek.

While we were gone, our younger son had agreed to feed our dogs. Evidently he had done so. They were in the back yard, seemingly at peace. We no sooner let them in, though, than Lili, our new Doberman puppy, got hold of one of my tennis shoes and began darting about the house with it in her mouth, evidently trying to entice my wife into playing her game.

She chased the dog around for a bit, and then began to curse at her, using much the same language as the Russian woman had.

So the weekend wasn't entirely wasted. I learned to appreciate the viola and my wife learned how to curse the dog with a Russian accent.

* Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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