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Un-Classical Approach

Modern chamber group brings its original, 'alternative' compositions to CSUN.


The Illustrious Theatre Orchestra rehearses in the least illustrious and theatrical of places: a warehouse in Brea.

By day, Active Packing and Gaskets is Shane W. Cadman's parents' business. By night, it is a rehearsal hall for this, the most atypical of garage bands. ITO's six musicians tuck themselves into a space between the fuse box and shelves of cork sheeting and rubber rings. And there they play modern chamber music.

The group's musicians used to label their music as postmodern, but these days they like a description coined by an acquaintance of member John P. Hoover: alternative classical. Other music writers and radio hosts have called it neo-chamber music, and often the group's work is compared to that of minimalist composers.

Reviewing a September concert, Times critic Mark Swed noted that the ITO "seem to take its harmonic and accompanimental ideas from Philip Glass, and its bright hook-oriented melodies and repeated-note effects from Michael Nyman. . . . Cadman and Hoover favor the contrast between sections of slow, pretty, noodling melodies with the more bouncy (but not too bouncy) traditional minimalism."

The ITO, which plays Saturday at CSUN's Performing Arts Center, has been dishing out this eclectic mix of modern music since 1989. Cadman and fellow Cal State Fullerton grad Hoover cooked up the group as an outlet for their compositions.

"We knew we couldn't write the kind of music that we would be able to hustle to ensembles," Cadman said. "It was too different."

At first, the ITO--which takes its name from Moliere's legendary Illustrious Theatre Company--had to fill in their concerts with arrangements of other composers' works. But soon they had enough original music for a whole concert, said Cadman, "which we were happy about, even if not all of the audiences were happy about it."

One theater manager, in fact, called the musicians arrogant for their insistence on playing only their own compositions. "A lot of people want to know why we don't play any other people's music," said Hoover. "But then it wouldn't be the same group."

For Hoover and Cadman, composing music is completed by performing it--and they wouldn't give up either end of that process. But that means longer periods between concerts and recordings (they put out CDs in 1993 and 1995, but are now "between labels") as they compose new music to add to the program. The more famous modern music ensemble, Kronos Quartet, by contrast, commissions music from outside composers and thus has a steady stream of new material.

Even if ITO were to look outside for music, not many people are writing for violin, cello, keyboard and woodwinds (they use a combination of baritone or tenor saxophone, and bass or regular clarinet).

"It's tough to keep an ensemble like this going--with or without the instrumentation issues--because it's a lot of work and you don't make much money," said Cadman.

No one made a nickel for the first six years, when they played mostly in art galleries and coffeehouses. Now, the group is incorporated as a nonprofit, and the members get a percentage of whatever income they earn, he said. "So we're not eating it quite so bad."

In the vein of its Illustrious Theatre name, the orchestra also collaborates with dance and theater ensembles. It has performed with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Naomi Goldberg's Los Angeles Modern Dance and Ballet in recent years, and has just begun collaborating with the Japanese dance troupe Oguri and Renzoku.

For most of the players, the ITO represents their only chance to play contemporary chamber music. While Hoover and Cadman have nonmusical day jobs, the others support themselves by teaching music and playing freelance gigs.

Clarinetist Scott McIntosh, who has been with the group four years, said he sticks with the ITO because he likes the music. "It's new, it's fresh. I find it really enjoyable," he said. "It's different, more creative than most things you find yourself doing to make a living."


The Illustrious Theatre Orchestra plays Sat., 8 p.m., at CSUN Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Tickets, $10-$15. Call (818) 677-2488.

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