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Del Aguila Becoming Fixture on Music Scene

No longer a token new music-maker, the Oxnard composer is appreciated by Ventura County audiences.


Another concert, another Miguel del Aguila piece. When the New West Symphony continued the saga of its inaugural season recently, the ostensible, advertised theme was Russian Romanticism. Conductor Boris Brott summoned up suitably heroic collective bluster for the landscape of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.

But for some in the audience, the most distinctive and memorable aspect of the program, performed at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and the Oxnard Civic Auditorium on consecutive nights, was a work by del Aguila, that now-familiar compositional voice from Oxnard by way of Uruguay. Over the last few years, the composer's music has been heard with enough regularity to make him something of a fixture rather than a token new music-maker.

And who's complaining? His music seems to have a renewable freshness, based on his skillful blend of beautiful sonorities and mischievous designs, which often self-destruct in the most delightful ways.

The New West played del Aguila's short but spirited "Back in Time," which premiered in Los Angeles last summer and was originally intended as the first movement of his first symphony. For now, it stands alone, a coherent entity on its own terms.

The composer's wilier humor is subdued here, in favor of a sweet-tempered tone poem, fueled by an almost primitive charm. Formally, the piece unfolds organically, rising out of a low drone and nature-like percussion effects. The basic thematic germ is introduced with soft singing in the ranks, and then proceeds through modulations and shifts of orchestral color.

Reminders of Copland's open-air harmonies and folk-like elements waft through the piece, but so does the composer's own unique vocabulary. He has a sure, yet evolving sense of how to deal with his cross-cultural circuitry of Latin-meets-European ideas.

Meanwhile, back at the Romantic ranch, soloist Daniel Pollack was rich with authority and fully at home on the terrain of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. Wisely, Pollack kept a generally cool head in the face of the gushing, swelling contours of this standard. As the violas introduced the haunting old refrain of the Adagio, Pollack held a rear guard position with muted heroics. He did the right thing--keeping it big, but clear-headed.

The same could be said for the evening's orchestral showpiece, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. Brott and his fine ensemble traced a clean line of development, from the epic breadth of the first movement through the charming diversion of the pizzicato-happy Scherzo and the alternately brash and tender finale. This symphony seems to alternate between profound emotive depths and the stuff of virtuosic circus music.

Like most things cultural and culinary, Romanticism is a matter of taste, acquired and instilled. What amounts to gripping emotionalism for one listener has the effect of dulling the senses for another. In Thousand Oaks this night, those of the former persuasion offered a fittingly romantic round of ovations.

New West: When the Ventura County Symphony and Conejo Symphony agreed to dissolve into the mold that would produce the New West Symphony last year, speculations flew regarding the identity of the new enterprise. As it stands, many of the traditions of the old Ventura County Symphony remain, including the Design House fund-raising project and, in musical news, the ambitious "Musics Alive!" chamber series, which kicks off its third season Sunday afternoon at the Ventura City Hall.

The basic concept of the series is to present both world music and contemporary music--areas of the music world deserving wider recognition--and draw links between the two. Partly enabled by the Barbara Barnard Smith Fund for World Musics, the series has focused on specific regions for each concert.

On Sunday, the subject is Mexico. From the modern perspective, the guest soloist will be Anne Marie Ketchum, a soprano who has specialized in contemporary music. The Nuhuali Ensemble will plunge into regional antiquity with its repertoire of indigenous music from Mexico and Latin America--the music from before the arrival of the Spanish colonialists.

* "Mexico Alive!" at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Ventura City Hall, 500 Poli St. in Ventura. Tickets are $25; 643-8646.

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