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Music / WEEKEND REVIEWS

Illustrious Theatre Orchestra Unveils Pleasant Contrasts

September 16, 1996|MARK SWED | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

Minimalism is our Baroque music. It is pattern music that expresses itself through lively rhythms and plays on predictable harmonic formulas. It is music that can stand on its own but happens to work very well in the background, and especially in the theater. And, as in the Baroque days, it is music that can be modestly made (although the music that is remembered isn't). Every town can have its Minimalist composer and Minimalist band.

Although not especially well known, the Illustrious Theatre Orchestra has tried to serve that function in Los Angeles since 1989. Its membership has changed only a little over the years, though the color of the hair of its principal composer and spokesman, Shane W. Cadman, has made the hip transition from dark to light. Its mission remains, in the band's words, "to educate the public to the music composed by [its] musicians."

To that end, Saturday night, the six-member ensemble offered a concert of seven new pieces by Cadman and saxophonist John P. Hoover at Whittier College's Ruth B. Shannon Center, with the concert recorded live for future CD release. (The ensemble has two previous discs available on Trompe l'Oreille, a label out of Anaheim.)

The band calls itself Postmodern, rather than Minimalist, but it seems to take its harmonic and accompanimental ideas from Philip Glass, and its bright, hook-oriented melodies and repeated-note effects from Michael Nyman. Postmodernism in music is more a European than American phenomenon, and there is little evidence here of the aggressive confusions of history that is found in, say, the more colorful Italian or Dutch Postmodern composers.

Nor does the Illustrious Theatre Orchestra seem to aspire to the virtuosic, knock-'em-dead kind of Minimalism that has made other bands so popular. Instead, Cadman and Hoover favor the contrast between sections of slow, pretty, noodling melodies with the more bouncy (but not too bouncy) traditional Minimalism. It's pleasant enough to listen to but would probably find a more useful home as part of some illustrious theatrical production.

The band is composed of saxophonists Cadman and Hoover, violinist Arthur Howansky, cellist Greg Adamson, clarinetist Scott McIntosh and keyboard player Ron Shelton. One expects they will polish their live performance in the studio before they release it.

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