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MUSIC: Ventura County | SOUNDS

In With the New

Santa Barbara Symphony takes a measured approach to the unfamiliar.

January 08, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In her few years at the helm of the Santa Barbara Symphony, music director Gisele Ben-Dor has taken a slow, smart approach, taking care to program favorites, while also inserting chancier music along the way. It's a game of give-and-take undertaken by every conductor with an ear for adventure but an awareness of the bottom line.

This weekend's Santa Barbara Symphony program is one of the most daring and important yet in the Ben-Dor era. The orchestra will give a U.S. premiere of the ballet "La Coronela," by the respected and iconoclastic Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1898-1940), to be danced by the State Street Ballet. The day after the concerts, the orchestra will record the piece for its debut recording, on the Koch International label.

Ben-Dor couldn't have picked riper material with which to launch the symphony's recording career. Revueltas, who was active during the '30s, is a composer who has been steadily gaining respect for his adventurous and sometimes irreverent work. In his too-short career, Revueltas managed the Bartok-ish feat of juggling folkloric sensibilities with his own brand of modernism. It's high time for rediscovery of his music.

"La Coronela" ("The Woman Colonel") was premiered on Nov. 20, 1940, after the composer's death of pneumonia, brought on by a hedonistic lifestyle. His premature death leaves us wondering what was left unwritten, unrealized. The Koch CD will also include Revueltas' "Colorines," performed by the English Chamber Orchestra under Ben-Dor's baton.

Like the better-known Mexican composer Carlos Chavez, Revueltas drew on the inspiration of folk music but took it in more challenging directions. An apt comparison has often been made between the two noted Mexican composers and Stateside contemporaries, that while Chavez's music parallels that of Aaron Copland, Revueltas is along the lines of the more experimental verve of Charles Ives.

In the notes written by the composer in 1938, quoted for the fine collection of string quartets played by the Cuarteto Latinamericano on New Albion Records, Revueltas relates, "I have had many teachers. The best of them, with no degrees, knew more than the others. For that reason I have always had little respect for degrees. Now, after many years I still study, have teachers, write music, dream of distant countries, and sometimes bang on washtubs."

The Revueltas premiere is not the only refreshing quirk on the symphony program, which will also feature the Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Robert Bonfiglio will be the soloist on harmonica, a too-rare visitor to the orchestral stage. The concert will be the kickoff event of the Midwinter Music Festival in Santa Barbara, which also includes a staging of Britten's "The Turn of the Screw" at UCSB.

Santa Barbara Symphony, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Arlington Theater, 1317 State St., Santa Barbara. Tickets are $17-$39; 963-4408.

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BIDDING ADIEU: Philippe Fanjeaud, the intrepid musician who led the humble-but-spirited Santa Susana Symphony starting in 1993, is returning with his family to his native France and will be giving a farewell piano recital Jan. 11. Fittingly, the recital will be in the Simi Valley Cultural Center, which was a happy home to the symphony in the past season.

Fanjeaud, born in 1949, studied under the noted composer and teacher Olivier Messiaen before coming to the United States in 1979. He landed in Simi Valley in the early '90s and saw to the formation of the Santa Susan Symphony, bringing classical music to the southeastern corner of Ventura county. His recital will include music of Bach, Schubert, Lizst and Mozart.

Philippe Fanjeaud, piano recital, Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Simi Valley Cultural Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $8 for children 12 and under; 581-9940.

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