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MUSIC: Ventura County | SOUNDS

Old Meets New

'Japan Alive!' respects both traditional and evolving music.


During the Ventura Chamber Music Festival two years ago, a modest clutch of new-music fans headed to the Performance Studio to hear the token contemporary event. There they found two Bay Area women, performing in self-contained contexts, breaking rules and establishing new ones.

There was Pamela Z, a performance artist and experimental vocalist who uses electronics to create her world of sound. In the other half of this doubleheader, koto player Miya Masaoka proceeded to expand the audience's awareness of her ancient Japanese instrument. She played traditional pieces, explained some of the mechanics of the 21-stringed instrument, and veered off into experimental and jazz directions, as is her wont.

Expansion figures heavily in the agenda of Masaoka, who will return to Ventura as the special guest in the "Japan Alive!" program Sunday afternoon in the GTE California Headquarters in Thousand Oaks, and Tuesday night at Ventura City Hall.

Masaoka is an ideal candidate for this acclaimed chamber music series, which celebrates the influence of world music on contemporary classical thinking. She will perform Henry Cowell's Concerto for Koto and Orchestra, No. 2, as well as traditional koto music.

Also on the program will be music by the famed Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, who died last year; Stravinksy's "Three Japanese Lyrics"; and a drumming performance by the Taiko Center of Los Angeles.

Trained in the tradition of gagaku before she ventured to other forms of music, Masaoka is hardly an idle rebel. She is, undoubtedly, the only koto player whose musical encounters have included playing with jazz icons such as Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor and Steve Coleman; new-music figures such as Alvin Curran, Henry Kaiser and Fred Frith, Indian violinist L. Subramanium and the Arditti String Quartet's Rohan de Saram.

Needless to say, she's open to new ideas and settings. Still, she feels the pull of her musical tradition, dating to the 7th century.

"As a composer concerned with new sounds, contexts, structures and realities, I have no choice but to construct my own musical reality. In traditional Japanese music the emphasis is on refinement rather than creativity, emulation of one's teacher rather than developing a personal style," Masaoka said in an article written for the newsletter of the "Institute for Studies in American Music" in 1996. "As such, traditional music represents a culture, a way of life of a collective people emanating from a particular location in history and geography. A contemporary composer, however, is required to grapple with both tradition and innovation, Western or otherwise, and the finished oeuvre is primarily that of an individual."

* "Japan Alive!," Sunday at 3 p.m. at the GTE California Headquarters in Thousand Oaks, and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Ventura City Hall Atrium, 500 Poli St. in Ventura. Tickets are $15/adult, $10/seniors and students; 643-8646.


Fretboard Pedigree: In the tight but passionate world of classical guitar legends, certain family names register boldly. The Romero clan, spanning three generations, has contributed formidable artistry to the guitar scene. And then there is the name Assad, making its own brand of imprint on the evolution of the classical guitar.

Born into a highly musical family, the Brazilian Assad brothers, Sergio and Odair, performing at UCSB next Tuesday, have virtually taken the music world by storm over the last several years. It's not only their virtuosity that impresses. They have developed a startlingly seamless approach to the guitar duo format, making their two sounds ring as one.

As heard on "Saga dos Migrantes," their stunning album from 1996, the Assads exude both passion and sophistication, a characteristic balance. On this recording, they place special emphasis on the contributions to guitar culture from Latin America and their native Brazil, notably the music of Villa-Lobos and Egberto Gismonti, as well as Sergio Assad's own bold compositional voice.

Their appearance at UCSB is one of those not-to-miss events for classical guitar aficionados, and the program promises to appeal to die-hards and casual listeners alike. They'll veer from the transcriptions of music by Scarlatti and Milhaud to Brazilian strains of Jobim, Villa-Lobos and Gismonti. They'll play music by the late Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, and Terry Riley's "Zamorra," also written for them, will have its California premiere that night.

* Sergio and Odair Assad, Tuesday at 8 p.m. at UCSB's Campbell Hall. Tickets are $16 and $20/general, $10 and $14/students; 893-3535.

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