For classical music culture in these parts, the Valley may lack in orchestral enticements, but chamber music has its day here now and again, thanks to series like the Music Guild at Cal State Northridge.
And just off the San Diego Freeway in Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism, the Los Angeles Philharmonic hosts a series of chamber music concerts with some of the finest musicians in the Southland.
Monday night's concert promises a fine example of balanced, venturesome programming, with a menu of music that includes Rossini, Beethoven, early 20th century composer Hindemith and work by a living composer, Stephen Hartke.
Hartke is a name less familiar to local concert stages than it should be. The USC-based composer, a fresh voiced artist who freely draws on music history without resorting to mere pastiche, has been gaining wider recognition on the East Coast and beyond.
His piece on the Gindi program, "King of the Sun," is scored for a piano quartet, and takes its movement titles from works by Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miro, i.e. "Personages in the Night Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails."
Pianist Vicki Ray, a guest soloist at the concert, is familiar with Hartke's music, partly because the composer is a good friend of her husband, composer Donald Crockett, also on the USC faculty. Hartke also wrote a piano sonata that Ray recorded for a recently released CD on the CRI label.
"King of the Sun," in particular, is a favorite of hers, which she estimates having played 15 times. The music, she said, involves "this wonderful blend of early music timbres and modern music sensibilities, mixed together in a really fascinating way. Audiences tend to love it."
Ray added that Hartke "has a wonderful sense of humor too. In the last movement, the tune that the string trio comes in playing, even though it's early music-y, is actually based on a song that he wrote years ago and never did anything with, which is a rather snide look at California. It's almost got this surf tune kind of bop to it.
"So on top of this groove that I lay down," she said, singing a riff, "it almost sounds like the Beach Boys singing Medieval chants. The piece is this wacky mix of old and new, but in a really tasty, unusual way, not in that crossover way that makes you cringe."
Ray is well-known for her dedication to, and skill in, interpreting contemporary music. She is a regular member of both the California EAR Unit and Xtet, two of the more established new music groups in Los Angeles, and has performed well-received piano duets with another new music specialist, Gloria Cheng, in addition to her own career as a solo pianist.
Still, love of the new doesn't come at the expense of distaste for the old, in her case.
In fact, she'll appear in the next Philharmonic chamber concert at the Gindi on March 17, playing a sextet for piano and winds by 19th century composer Ludwig Thuille.
"It's a late romantic, Straussian piece," Ray said. "A whole different thing. If I don't get to play some nice, big, juicy romantic stuff every once in awhile, I get very sad. It's important to balance your diet."
The L.A. Philharmonic chamber music concert begins at 8 p.m. Monday at Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. Tickets: $25. Information: (213) 365-3500 or http://www.LAPHIL.org