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Symphonic Sounds in the Neighborhood


The Los Angeles Philharmonic isn't exactly boldly going where no orchestra has gone before, but it is exploring with a mission: how to have close encounters with people who normally would not venture downtown to see a live performance.

"It's amazing how different the live concert experience is," says Llewellyn Crain, who, as the recently installed director of educational initiatives, oversees educational programs for the orchestra. "People think, 'Well, if I listen at home, I have my great stereo system I can turn up really loud and I don't need to go to the concert hall.' But there is nothing like experiencing the music live."

Actor John de Lancie, host of the Philharmonic's Toyota Symphonies for Youth concerts, believes that concert-going often gives the same impression as going to church: "You have to dress up, sit still and listen, and at the end you're told it's something that's good for you."


To make the experience less formal and more fun, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is attempting to stimulate imaginations through outreach programs, such as the Neighborhood Concerts, the Toyota youth series (aimed at children ages 5 through 11) and the new Community Concert Connections.

On Friday, the L.A. Philharmonic will take the Neighborhood Concert series to East L.A. College for a matinee performance at 1 p.m., hoping to draw both seniors and perhaps some of their preschool grandchildren. On Nov. 11, the annual Toyota youth series begins anew. The newest program, the Community Concert Connections, begins this winter, providing broader access to nonprofit organizations throughout Los Angeles County that serve youth, seniors and families. The organizations will get up to 30 tickets each, paying only the handling fee.

Such outreach efforts are essential nowadays, De Lancie believes, because the United States has become a "society of observers."

"Before television, there was a piano in many homes in this country," he says. "People played instruments on an amateur level and because of that, they became informed amateurs." Those amateurs would eagerly go to see the symphony and would know the musical repertoire. "We've lost that," he says.

The Southland's demographics have also changed, says Leni Boorstin, director of public affairs for the Philharmonic. "The Neighborhood Concerts grew out of the L.A. Festival model. Now the goals have changed because the community has changed. We had to find new ways of introducing the orchestra to more complex audiences."

Getting children involved is a top priority, since they represent the potential audience of the future. So the sixth year of the Toyota Symphonies for Youth concerts features a kid-friendly space theme. Prices are $9-$11 for seats that would cost up to $70 at a regular concert. The series continues on Jan. 27 with the Big Bang, highlighting percussion instruments, followed by Cosmic Winds (woodwind instruments) on March 3, Blast Off With the Brass on March 31 and Super Sonic Strings on May 12.


The first event Nov. 11, titled Close Encounters of the Orchestral Kind, begins at 10 a.m., when kids can participate in hands-on activities from dance to storytelling, meet musicians and get an up-close look at the orchestra's instruments. Following that, they'll take their seats for the 11 a.m. performance, emceed by an enthusiastic De Lancie. A video screen gives the audience a detailed look at what's going on onstage.

The hope, says Crain, is that "they'll come and have a great time. When they grow up, they'll feel more comfortable with the music."

De Lancie is right at home with the music as well as the series' space theme. He explored the outer limits as the character Q on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and grew up immersed in classical music--his father was a musician with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He sees his role as an opportunity to share his excitement for and possibly ignite some interest in classical music--and live performance in general.

"I hear younger kids say, 'I really loved that,' " De Lancie says. "If I can help create that, I have planted the seed for concerts, plays, dance, all the things that require getting dressed up and going out.

"There's something inherently life-denying in television and radio and stuff that's canned," De Lancie adds. "Being there [at a live performance] is fundamental to who we are, and it feels to me it's something that's disappearing."


Neighborhood Concert, Friday at 1 p.m., East L.A. College, Edison Center for the Performing Arts. Free. Toyota Symphony for Youth series, opening Nov. 11 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. 10 a.m.-noon. $9-$11. Information: (213) 850-2000.

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