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MUSIC: Ventura Coutry | SOUNDS

'Israel Alive!' Kicks Off the 3-Concert Series


When New West maestro Boris Brott first arrived in the area five years ago as the new conductor for the Ventura County Symphony, he brought with him a novel idea for a modest concert series with big scope. Big enough, in fact, that "Musics Alive!" even justifies its exclamation point.

The basic idea behind the series has been to provide an intimate and informal venue for music from contemporary and world music traditions--sounds that wouldn't normally fit into a conventional orchestral or chamber-music setting. Thankfully, the series has been carried into the agenda of the New West Symphony, now in its third season.

"Israel Alive!" kicks off the three-concert series Sunday afternoon in Thousand Oaks, and Tuesday night in Ventura, with music both inside and outside the classical music realm. The acclaimed young Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz will be a special guest, performing George Avni's "Elegy." The program also includes Copland's "Vitebsk," a klezmer-inspired trio by Paul Schoenfield, George Pearl's "Six Hebrew Melodies" and Michael Isaacson's song cycle, "Legend of Zanta," to be sung by soprano Anne Marie Ketchum.

Later this spring, watch for "Japan Alive!" on Feb. 22 and 24, featuring progressive koto player Miya Masaoka. On April 5 in the Forum Theatre at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, celebrated composer Lou Harrison will be the guest for the program "Indonesia Alive!"

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


Small Wonders Dept.: Speaking of worthwhile, ongoing projects off to the side of the official New West Symphony season, last week's "Discovery Concerts" in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks capped a big week of music-making by musicians young and old. In this now-traditional January event in the symphony's life, impressive young soloists from around California win coveted opportunities to perform in front of a scaled-down New West Symphony.

But the other important aspect of the program this year was its outreach component, under the title "Amgen Youth Week 10,000." Over the course of a week, the program brought classical music to the tender ears of 10,000 children in the area. In this expanded format, the Discovery project serves both as a showcase for up-and-comers and as a means for evangelism, spreading the all-too marginalized world of classical music to schools. No one can argue with the value of that.

You know a musician is on the small side when the bouquet ceremoniously delivered after a performance is almost as big as the recipient. Such was the case in Oxnard last Friday when precocious young violinist Jean Yeh finished playing Beriot's "Scene de Ballet" with a big tone and nimble fingers. A student at Lindero Canyon Middle School in Westlake Village, she's all of 10 years old, but consider the percentages: having begun her studies at age 3, she's been playing for 70% of her life.

Other young performers included trumpeter Mindy Cabral, who held her own on the first movement of Hummel's Trumpet Concerto, and pianist Joanne Hsieh, lunging confidently into the heroic octaves opening Grieg's Piano Concerto.

For sheer charisma, Australian-born violinist Victor de Almeida stole the show. The violinist, now studying at Cal State Northridge, played Sarasate's showpiece "Zigeunerweisen" with an impassioned gypsy spirit and no discernible fear.

Sixteen-year-old pianist Jiwon Lee, wearing an ornate peach gown, took on two movements from Lizst's First Piano Concerto with a refined touch and overall skill beyond her years. Pianist Seromi Park, raised in Oxnard and a recent USC graduate, was also a strong, dynamic player, playing Mendelssohn's "Capriccio Brilliant."

Closing the concert on a particularly warm note, young instrumentalists--the Youth Symphony All-Stars, coached by assistant conductor Gregory Fried--infiltrated the orchestral ranks, and the Newbury Park High School Choir, led by Michael Bonn, filled out the stage and the sound.

The combined forces offered a fully fleshed-out version of Sibelius' "Finlandia," in all its anthem-like glory. Somehow this reading, if not unerringly taut or polished, provided more inspiration than would a letter-and-note perfect version by seasoned professionals. Under the youthful circumstances, it brimmed with hope for a future musical and otherwise.

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