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Closing Notes

New West Symphony marks season's end with a well-balanced program.

May 19, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's that time of the year when the standard classical music approaches its final measures and Ventura County music lovers settle in for a long summer's nap. The New West Symphony is closing its season this weekend with what could be considered a well-balanced symphonic meal: Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Shubert's Unfinished Symphony, and, for the sake of music by an actual, living composer, John Adams' randy little romp, "Lollapalooza."

In chamber music news, the Camerata Pacifica is wrapping up its 10th annual season this weekend. All season, it has been tapping into repertoire presented in its first decade. For the finale, the program is both fresh and familiar, including Poulenc's "Sextour" (sextet for wind quintet and piano), contemporary composer William Bolcom, Tom Johnson's witty piece "Falling: A Very Difficult Piece for Solo Double Bass," (a showpiece for spidery bassist Nico Abbondolo) and, as a closing fanfare, Copland's hit, the chamber version of "Appalachian Spring."

Meanwhile, opera, at least in piecemeal form, makes one of its rare appearances in the county in Simi Valley on Sunday, when "Night at the Opera" presents a full slate of arias and excerpts by several vocalists. The program includes pieces from "La Boheme," "Carmen," "Marriage of Figaro" and other classics. The vocal talent includes the concert's producers, Bill and Lani Bartlett, sopranos Carol Osborn and Christina Johns, tenors Roberto Falcone and Donald Squillace and basso David Odekirk.

DETAILS

The New West Symphony, tonight at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., and Saturday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way. Both concerts start at 8 p.m. Tickets $8-$55. Information: 486-2424. The Camerata Pacifica, tonight at Santa Barbara City College, 721 Cliff Drive; Saturday at Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road in Ventura; and Sunday at the Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theatre, 2000 Thousand Oaks Blvd. in Thousand Oaks. All performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets $25; information: (800) 557-BACH. "Night at the Opera," 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Simi Valley Arts Center, 3050 E. Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley. Tickets are $10-$15; 581-9940.

Festival Wrapper: The Ventura Chamber Music Festival wrapped up its sixth edition last Sunday with a big, little-chamber concert in the morning and a piano recital by John Browning at night. This fine festival continues its impressive course, virtually putting Ventura on the classical music map in a way that no other organization in the area has.

In short, the festival has become a centerpiece of the county's cultural calendar and a natural magnet for music-loving out-of-towners, which, of course, pleases those with an eye on tourist revenue. It's a festival that manages to be cosmopolitan and homespun, by turns.

Prominent artists are brought to town, and this year included a four-concert residency by the solid and luminous Shanghai String Quartet, classical guitarist of note Sharon Isbin and pianist Christopher O'Riley, whose mostly Stravinsky recital turned out to be one of the festival's high points. Another memorable event was an afternoon rendering of Schubert's great introspective song cycle "Die Winterreise" by tenor Jonathan Mack and pianist Vicki Ray, all controlled passion.

Among one's list of possible nit-picking beefs, there are still those natteringly cute concert titles--that is, "Mother of Pearl," "Pianistic Pearls," 'Sapphires of Song"--as if the names of the composers and musicians aren't enough. This may be a marketing department move, and the necessity of nurturing classical culture allows for this and other compromises of protocol.

One pleasant revelation this year was the music of John Thow, who grew up in Ventura. He studied with Frank Salazar and played in Salazar's orchestra, the Ventura Symphony, before pursuing composition.

Currently teaching at UC Berkeley, Thow presented three impressive pieces here, including the enchanting blend of contemporary classical and indigenous music in "Two Chumash Songs."

On Sunday morning, we heard the beautifully atmospheric dialogue of Thow's "Pinon for Clarinet and Piano," dedicated to Salazar. Also heard that morning, Thow's Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano lacked neither sophistication nor emotional directness.

John Biggs, the Ventura-based composer who has had much of his music commissioned and performed in town, was given an afternoon concert last week in the Church of Religious Science.

A compact retrospective of compositions, it demonstrated Biggs' unapologetic eclecticism, with sounds running from affable modernism to the avid historicism of "A Renaissance Bouquet." Biggs also sampled various and sundry dance rhythmic elements in his "Dance Suite," heard in its premiere here.

In the margins of the Biggs afternoon was an old piece for violin and tape, which suffered from the innate problem of an antiquated synthesizer timbre (strange irony: the centuries-old violin sounds ever-fresh, in the right hands, while a two-decades old synth sound can appear hopelessly old school).

Even in this piece, though, the playing was impressive in its own right, courtesy of the commanding violinist Juliette Kang, who later proved her depth with Bach's Chaconne in D minor in the Ventura Theatre.

Peripheral note: This space is wonderfully conducive to the cerebral focus of classical music. Somehow, we've got to go on meeting like this.

Ditto the festival itself, one of the prominent events on the cultural calendar, of which Ventura should be duly proud.

*

Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com.

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