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Ventura Festival Is Planning for Bigger and Better 2nd Year

Culture and commerce combine to bring range of works to Ventura. Mexican-themed event begins at UCSB.


Festivals, those staples of the cultural world, gain strength and momentum from numbers. When they work, they take on a life of their own, building up the means and wisdom to survive difficult seasons and dwindling fortunes.

Take, for example, the internationally hailed Ojai Festival, which has transcended lean times to celebrate its 50th anniversary next month.

But there's another little festival in Ventura County making its way into the world. Last May, the ambitious Ventura Chamber Music Festival was launched with brash optimism. Apparently, it paid off. The first year was successful, and the sophomore effort from Tuesday through May 12 promises to be bigger and better.

A significant part of the festival's expanded vision this year has to do with greasing the wheels of funding. A collaborative effort of the Ventura County Chamber Orchestra and the city of Ventura, the festival has proven to be a successful blend of cultural and commercial energies. Area businesses have sponsored the festival to the tune of $50,000.

Timing was fortuitous: Redevelopment fever in downtown Ventura is running high. That spirit found a natural link to the Chamber Music Festival, a project which presents Ventura in a culturally elegant light.

Regardless of the civic machinery that made it possible, the menu assembled by musical director Burns Taft this year looks artistically intriguing and broad in focus. The only real complaint from the outset is a confusing festival brochure, which is heavy on marketing hooks--concert titles such as "Kaffeehaus Music," "Tea and Trumpets" and "String Soiree"--but short on specifics, like who is playing what, where and when.

The festival's opening gala Wednesday on the Dandeana charter yacht is sold out. But there will be a notable pre-festival concert Saturday night, when the Chamber Orchestra, along with the Ventura County Master Chorale (also led by Taft), performs Bach's B Minor mass at Oxnard Civic Auditorium at 8 p.m.

Area composers have been drawn into the act, with new commissions to be unveiled. Ventura-based composer John Biggs' "Homage to J. P. Rameau" will receive its world premiere by the Westlake Chamber Ensemble in a free concert at 3 p.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church, 1338 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura.

Composer Miguel del Aguila, the omnipresent Uruguayan-in-Oxnard, wrote the solo guitar work "Tennessee" for Matthew Greif. Greif, who included the piece on his recently released CD, will premiere the piece in a free concert, at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the same chapel.

The festival kicks into high gear May 9 with some 13 concerts between the Schubertian MasterSingers' "Kaffeehaus Music" at 1 p.m. at the Daily Grind and the finale concert by the Colorado String Quartet at 3 p.m. May 12 at San Buenaventura Mission.

Other festival highlights include: a concert from acclaimed young pianist Eduardus Halim at 8 p.m. May 10 at the mock-Mayan architectural wonder of the Church of Religious Science, 101 S. Laurel St., Ventura; and "Three Sopranos," featuring the three first-place finalists in last year's Metropolitan Opera auditions, at 11 a.m. May 12 at San Buenaventura Mission.


NEW MUSIC, MEXICAN DIVISION: On the subject of festival momentum, this week also marks the fifth anniversary of the enterprising New Music Festival at UCSB. This important annual event has quietly worked small wonders over the past several years. Among the composers brought to town for past festivals are Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, Mel Powell and Lou Harrison.

Under the direction of noted composer William Kraft and his tireless assistant, composer Jeremy Haladyna, the New Music Festival adopts a particular theme each year. Last year the focus was on Stravinsky, building up to a juicy performance of "L'Histoire du Soldat."

This year's subject is new music from Mexico. Not coincidentally, the "Festival de Mayo" culminates on Cinco de Mayo--Sunday--with a concert at the historic Lobero Theater in downtown Santa Barbara at 6 p.m. The program includes music by all five of the guest composers--Mario Lavista, Leonardo Velazquez, Francisco Nunez, Eduardo Soto Millan and Sergio Ortiz.

Festival organizers have long wanted to establish ties with the off-campus community, and the Lobero concert is the boldest move yet in that direction. The festival also starts off campus, aptly enough, at Casa de La Raza, 601 E. Montecito St. on Santa Barbara's eastside, with a concert entitled, "The Proud Pre-Colombian Roots," at 8 p.m. today.

The action heads back to the university for four concerts on Friday and Saturday. Ricardo Gallardo, guest percussionist from Mexico, gives a solo percussion recital at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall at 3 p.m. Friday. That night's concert at Lehmann hall, titled "Heart of Sun, Magic of Dawn," features, among others, guest recorder virtuoso Horacio Franco.

"Toward New Beacons," at 3 p.m. Saturday mixes Mexican works with music by UCSB composers, while "La Poesia de las Formas" at 8 p.m. includes music by the late Carlos Chavez, that acknowledged icon of Mexican concert music.

Let the festival season begin.


* WHAT: Ventura Chamber Music Festival.

* WHERE: Various sites.

* WHEN: Tuesday through May 12.

* HOW MUCH: $18-$28.

* CALL: 648-3146.

* WHAT: "Festival de Mayo," 5th Annual UCSB New Music Festival.

* WHERE: UCSB and the Lobero Theater.

* WHEN: Today through Sunday.

* HOW MUCH: $5-$12.

* CALL: 893-3621.

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