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Cultural Play by Play

Romero family scores big with Monday-night festival audience.


You know it's festival time in Ventura when a full house of music lovers comes out on a Monday night and is privy to a historic occasion.

Monday is normally a null point on the weekly cultural calendar, especially in Ventura, which measures out its classical music events sparingly and almost always on the weekend. But the Ventura Chamber Music Festival has successfully undermined business-as-usual in town. There lies the goal of a festival such as this.

Some sort of local history was made at the San Buenaventura Mission when the Romero Guitar Duo appeared, at least for most of the evening, as the Romero Quartet. Grandsons Lito and Celino represent the most tender concertizing generation of the noted Romero family. They had just come off a Canadian tour with their fathers, Pepe and Angel, who drove up to watch their sons in action. But when the younger duo coaxed their elders onto the stage, a family gathering seemed appropriate and sounded fabulous.

The program included several pieces by the family's late patriarch Celedonio, the legendary guitarist who died in 1996. Also heard were classics of the Spanish guitar repertoire and the Allegro from the third Brandenburg Concerto, arranged to capitalize on the group's taut, bustling, 24-stringed glory.

The fifth annual festival, which started slowly last weekend but picks up the pace with several concerts through Sunday night, began on a folk note last Thursday. The able and admirably flexible Rincon Ramblers serenaded upscale barbecue-eating types at the Olivas Adobe, mixing up vocal tunes with instrumental vamps that nicely showed off the group's chops. Outside the courtyard before dinner, just off the green rolling hills of a golf course, Mariachi Colima offered its own neatly crafted indigenous music.

Last Friday afternoon, "Tea and Trumpets," a tradition dating back to the first festival, held sure-fire charm. Various incarnations of brass have appeared in Nona's Courtyard, and this year's polished trumpet trio of Stephen Billington, Marty Fenton Frear and Darren Mulder offered a lean but filling program, with teasing dips into Stravinsky and Elliott Carter, among more traditional sounds.

And that day at the Mission, the Muir Quartet did a fine job of bringing sonorous, texturally unified life to Mozart, Brahms (with ace clarinetist Mitchell Lurie) and especially Debussy's riveting Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10. They fared well despite the distraction of some of that dreaded applause between movements. This infraction of classical concert protocol should result in removal or, at least, brow-beating. It doesn't reflect well on the festival's sincere and well-placed efforts at nurturing a cosmopolitan cultural identity.

String quartet music returns tonight at Community Presbyterian Church, courtesy of the Shanghai Quartet with guest pianist Christopher O'Riley. The operatic muse stops for a visit on Mother's Day at 11 a.m. at City Hall as mezzo soprano Cynthia Jansen Theo performs songs by Brahms, Debussy and Ravel.

Quibblers might well voice alarm at the general lack of contemporary and 20th century fare in this, the last festival of the 1900s. It is true, though, that this weekend will bring a performance of at least one modernist masterpiece, Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," written while the acclaimed French composer was in a prison camp during World War II. It will be performed by an ad hoc festival ensemble, alongside Beethoven's Piano Trio, Opus 70, No. 2, at Community Presbyterian Church, at 10:30 a.m.

In other new music news, this weekend will also bring a world premiere, "Return to Homeland," by Miguel del Aguila, at the Saturday night orchestral gala. At Sunday's closing concert, the respected vocal group Chanticleer will include contemporary works as well as early music.

Saturday's concert will also feature the final of four events with resident-artist Corey Cerovsek. The violinist, returning after a successful appearance last year, was seen as soloist and conductor last Saturday, in a master class on Tuesday and a duo with his pianist sister, Katja, on Thursday. He has seemingly won his way into the hearts and minds of Ventura audiences, and his slate of activities in the course of a week offers the festival a valued thread of continuity.



Ventura Chamber Music Festival, through Sunday. For information: 648-3146.


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