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MUSIC REVIEWS

Festival Christens Ventura Theater

May 13, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD

The Klieg lights beamed over Ventura for good reason on Saturday night, for the gala concert of the third--and best--Ventura Chamber Music Festival. This was also to be the christening event for the remodeled Ventura Theater, but "remodeling" was the operative verb tense, and listeners dealt with folding chairs and wooden floors.

No matter; the show went on, impressively and resourcefully, as the Ventura Chamber Orchestra was joined by pianist Santiago Rodriguez and the Ventura County Master Chorale. To music director Burns Taft's credit, he kicked off a mostly 19th century program with young, venturesome composer Michael Torke's groove-lined piece "Adjustable Wrench." It sounds like an elaborate set of variations and expansions on the simple vamp from Van Halen hit "Jump," set into a hypnotic post-minimalist spin of skewed rhythms and sly modulations.

The dazzling Cuban-born Rodriguez, who also gave a recital on Thursday, returned to masterfully realize the formidable solo part on Schumann's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, Opus 54. Schumann's Concert Piece for Four Horns in F, Opus 86, also met with a lucid, spirited performance.

By concert's end, all musicians in the house piled onto the makeshift stage for Beethoven's Fantasy in C for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Opus 80, exacting the humble profundity and boisterous good cheer from even this lesser Beethoven work. It played like a triumphant, symbolic anthem for a little festival on the rise.

Among the highlights of the festival, which ended on Sunday, were Jonathan Mack's inspired reading, with pianist Vickie Ray, of the Schubert song cycle "Die schone Mullerin," and guitar virtuoso Christopher Parkening's typically focused and highly musical program in the Ventura Mission, joined by the Colorado String Quartet.

Young cellist Dennis Karamazyn fared well with Bach's Cello Suite No. 3 and the premiere of composer John Biggs' "Songs for Baritone and Cello." The Falla Guitar Trio offered the festival's most eclectic program, from baroque work to the jazz turf of Chick Corea's "Spain."

The festival proved to be a generally well-planned and well-attended affair. A bright future seems in store.

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