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Lending Voice

Area's two chorales to perform Beethoven's epic 'Missa Solemnis.'

March 17, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is considered in the Top 10 of great masterworks in the concert music world, familiar even in quarters otherwise outside classical music's radar, his majestic "Missa Solemnis," written about the same time, is one of those masterworks deserving wider public recognition.

Like the Ninth Symphony, with its triumphant choral "Ode to Joy" finale, the Mass is a grandly scaled piece, by turns emotionally turbulent and joyous, traditional and radical, an epic prayer of thanksgiving and eloquent lament all at once.

To our ears, especially when heard in the hot caldron of live performance, it doesn't come across as a rebellious period piece, written at a time when Beethoven's personal life was in rapid decline. Rather, it plays like a relatively perfect musical world into which we sink.

And as a piece of music, its intensity of feeling and scoring challenges musicians beyond the call of typical duty. What better platform then with which to challenge Ventura County's ambitious two chorales under one roof?

This Saturday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Los Robles Master Chorale and the Ventura County Master Chorale will combine their choral might, more than 100 voices strong. The two groups have joined their massed voices before, on the mighty theme of the "Messiah," with the New West Symphony. This time the orchestral body is the Conejo Valley Symphony Orchestra, which has been making impressive inroads in its current season to create a respectable new orchestra from the ashes of the old symphony.

Guiding the massed musical forces will be the esteemed choral conductor Vance George, director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and recipient of three Grammies. The latest came recently when George received the Grammy for Best Classical Album along with San Francisco Symphony maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, who received a Grammy for a recording of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," "Firebird" and "Persephone."

George is no stranger to these parts, having appeared here three times, twice leading Los Robles Master Chorale and once a performance of Verdi's "Requiem" with both master chorales. Suffice to say, choral music appears to be one of Ventura County's prize cultural crops. This Saturday, the soloists will be soprano Tracy Saliefendic, mezzo-soprano Linda St. George, tenor Gabriel Reoyo-Pazos and bass Louis Lebherz. All in all, it promises to be one of the events of the classical scene here, well worth taking in.

DETAILS

The Conejo Valley Symphony, Los Robles Master Chorale and the Ventura County Master Chorale, performing "Missa Solemnis," 8 p.m. Saturday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets are $12-30; 497-0386.

Going North Department: This weekend, the Santa Barbara Symphony focuses on Wagner's "Ring Cycle," performing instrumental highlights as a tribute to the late conductor Varujan Kojian.

The illustrious Kojian's cancer-related death in the early '90s left a void at the podium, which conductor Gisele Ben-Dor has filled with panache and vision.

As a nod to her predecessor, Ben-Dor decided to program this compacted "Ring Cycle" sampler.

It was assembled by Kojian himself, with an ear for the integrity and chronological flow of the original works.

And as it turns out, fans of the "Missa Solemnis" will get a second chance to hear it live in the area on May 13 and 14.

The Santa Barbara Symphony, abetted by the Santa Barbara Choral Society, performs the work as the finale of its concert season.

DETAILS

Santa Barbara Symphony, 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Tickets are $15-40; 963-4408.

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