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STAGE: Ventura County | SOUNDS

Ongoing Excellence

New faculty member, Marilyn Horne, opens Music Academy's 50th season.


Nestled into the idyllic Miraflores estate, close to the beach but in its own world, the Music Academy of the West is one of those deceptively calm, internally high-pressure, high-yield places in Santa Barbara. Half a century has passed since the Music Academy launched its program, starting a tradition that has given Santa Barbara an international presence in the classical music world.

Stellar charter faculty members, such as soprano Lotte Lehmann and composer Ernst Bloch, helped build the foundation for an institution that has drawn gifted students from around the globe and produced worldly musicians. These are heady days for the academy, what with the recent engagement of the legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne as director of the voice program.

A dense schedule of concerts by night and master classes by day--open to the public--keeps the prospect of classical music alive in the summer.

This weekend officially kicks off the academy's 50th season with two performances at the Lobero Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara. Horne will perform on Friday, along with soprano Benita Valente. On Saturday, the Festival Orchestra, led by Jeffrey Tate, will play.

It's just the beginning of an impressive roster of performances at the Lobero, including chamber concerts on Tuesday evenings, orchestra concerts on Saturdays, and a staged production of Rossini's opera "Ill Viaggio a Reims," presented on Aug. 8 and 10. Special events include guest shots by conductors Laurence Leighton Smith (an academy veteran), Bobby McFerrin (July 26) and the young Boston Pops maestro Keith Lockhart (Aug. 16). Even Garrison Keillor is showing up, at the County Bowl on Aug. 9, along with members of the festival orchestra.

* Music Academy of the West 50th anniversary: Marilyn Horne, Benita Valente, backed by pianist Warren Jones, Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, 33 Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara; tickets are $35 and $50; (805) 963-0761. Festival Orchestra, Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Lobero; tickets are $23; (805) 963-0761.


Early and Earlier: At Cal Lutheran University last Friday, the chamber group calling itself the Schubertian Players settled into the intimate Preuss Brandt Forum for a concert presented as part of the campus' Summer String Institute. The emphasis was on early music, the piece of newest vintage being the concert's centerpiece, Schubert's "Trout Quintet."

The concert opened with the Duet in E flat for viola and cello of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, the Baroque composer. Cellist Mary Anne Lakatos Steinberger and violist Joshua Shekhtir laid out its simple charms, both rough and refined.

This performance of the "Trout" wasn't pristine, marred by some intonation warbles and fuzzy phrasings, but the spirit was a warm and willing one, and the power of Schubert's celebrated opus emerged intact.


Funk-Lined: For the past few years, Domino Affect has been busy giving contemporary jazz a good name, playing their funk-lined stuff in area clubs. Now you can take the tunes home, courtesy of the band's first CD, "Yeah, Right!," on their own Play Me label. Check out their CD-release party tonight at SOhO in Santa Barbara.

Not surprisingly, the CD fits easily into the contemporary jazz format, but it may also register points with young fans of the recent neo-'70s-funk movement.

The band is co-led by Craig Thomas and keyboardist Terry Murphy, who packs the tracks with layers of synthesizers and his reliably strong box of chops.

On record and in person, Domino Affect's music goes down easy, which is not to say that it's easy listening. Without pretensions, Thomas and Murphy press their focused ideas and musicality in the service of a jazz-funk genre.

* Domino Affect, 8:30 tonight at SOhO, 1221 State St., Santa Barbara; (805) 962-7776.

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