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Familiar Face and Sound

Pianist Arnaldo Cohen will solo with New West Symphony for third time.


Next up in the New West Symphony's concert season, this weekend in Thousand Oaks and Oxnard: old news and good news.

The dazzling pianist Arnaldo Cohen, born in Brazil and now based in Europe, returns for the third time as soloist, which must make him the most familiar face on the guest soloist list in the still-young New West history.

And who's complaining? The 50-something Cohen, a mathematician and late-blooming concert pianist now gaining international acclaim, is a model musician, with a level of technical bravura and digital exactitude that never sacrifices emotional sensitivity.

He gives romantic repertoire a good, probing reputation.

The first time Cohen appeared in the area a few years back, he essayed on the turf of his specialty, Liszt. This weekend, the fare is Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, a change from the original plan of Ravel's jazzy Piano Concerto in G. Otherwise, the concert program has a French accent (befitting its title, "Parisian Spring"), with Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture and Cesar Franck's Symphony in D Minor.



The New West Symphony, 8 p.m. today at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way in Oxnard. Tickets are $8-55; 497-5880.

Orchestral periphery:

The New West Symphony may get more attention, as the Goliath of the county's lean orchestral scene. But there's more to the symphonic story, as we were reminded last Saturday when the Conejo Valley Symphony offered its "Beethoven X 3" program at the huge new Calvary Community Auditorium in Westlake Village. Another orchestra, another inspiring pianist.

The renowned Daniel Pollack, a beloved returnee to Ventura County, had appeared with this orchestra's earlier incarnation, then led by founding maestro Elmer Ramsey.

This hall is too large for its growing but still modest-size audience and also too large for the orchestra's sound. The smallish orchestral forces were a bit swallowed up by the cavernous venue, though the musicians played with a gusto and, generally, a precision that valiantly fought the unfavorable conditions of the space.

This was a Beethoven feast showing the composer's relatively sunny disposition, with only sparing doses of the angst and turbulence in the Beethoven canon. Conductor Howard Sonstegard led his charges in the ripe fanfare of the overture to "Egmont," a nice warmup to Pollack's showcase, the "Emperor" Concerto.

Pollack is impressive in his technical grasp, sure, but he possesses what makes a musician mature and musical. He inhabited the opus like one who had lived with it for years and gained a mellowed, comfortable understanding of the work's emotional surroundings. Afterward, he was wreathed in a small flower shop's worth of bouquets.

After intermission, Sonstegard led the orchestra, a very capable and professional ensemble, through Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. The reading was proficient and clear, rather than deep or revelatory. This music's sweet, affirmative spirit, especially compared with darker-toned Beethoven works, made the light touch the right touch here.

The Conejo Valley Symphony's Beethoven fixation continues March 18, when it joins forces with both the Ventura County and Los Robles Master chorales to perform "Missa Solemnis," this time at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

Jazz to the left:

In a wholly different cultural corner last weekend, we also heard the mighty little trio led by trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, with fellow adventurous 'bone player Bruce Fowler and drummer Chris Garcia, in concert at Ventura City Hall.

In the ripe, reverberant atrium, the sumptuous blend of trombone textures and the blend of stylistic instincts of these particular players--rife with free improv laced around meaningful structures--made for what was surely one of the year's musical highlights in town. They haven't recorded yet, but need to.

Jazz to the right:

Tenor sax Pete Christlieb is one of those musical giants hiding in plain sight.

Jazz fans know him as one of the brightest lights among West Coast saxophonists, with a style both bold and sensitive. He's mainstream but with depth, warmth and edge appreciable to all. Everybody knows him via his truncated treasures as a prime soloist in Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Band, lobbing hip riffs into America's living rooms on the way to and from commercials.

Christlieb is the guest soloist with the UCSB Jazz Ensemble on Saturday night.



Pete Christlieb, with the UCSB Jazz Ensemble, at 8 p.m. Saturday at UCSB's Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $7 for students; 893-7001.


For further adventures in improvisational and otherwise experimental music, check out a double-header concert at Art City II on Saturday night. The menu includes trumpeter/electronicat Jeff Kaiser's trio, with guitarist Woody Apalnap and bassist Steuart Liebig.



Jeff Kaiser Trio and Clay Chaplin/Eric Getter, at 8 p.m. Saturday at Art City II, 31 Peking St. in Ventura. Tickets are $5.

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