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Musical Allies

Area composer's guitar concerto debuts on CD featuring Parkening.

September 08, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A new CD brings together two important musical Americans, film composer Elmer Bernstein and guitarist Christopher Parkening, who premiere Bernstein's beautiful, agreeably post-Romantic "Concerto for Guitar--for Two Christophers," recorded with the London Symphony and newly released on the Angel label.

Bernstein wrote the work for Parkening--whom he encouraged when Parkening was a fledgling player in the '60s--as well as orchestrator Christopher Palmer, a longtime friend and ally.

There are local angles here to be noted. Bernstein has long made Santa Barbara his home. Parkening, meanwhile, has been a favorite in recent editions of the Ventura Chamber Music Festival. He also gave a special Bach performance, replete with visuals, at the Ventura Theater a couple of years ago.

Also on the CD are Isaac Albeniz's "La Vega" (from "The Alhambra"), arranged by Jack Marshall, whose own cheerful "Essay for Guitar" closes the program. This is a little charmer from the archives, a never-before-released recording of Parkening's debut orchestral recording, done in 1967. But the real news is the Bernstein premiere.

The concerto's basic agenda is laid out in the first furtive couple of minutes. It opens with a section called "Guitar," in which Parkening gently plays the open strings of his instrument--as if announcing its arrival out of a state of stillness--and quickly spans into further harmonic reaches. The orchestra arrives around him in a cloudburst and wraps phrases around his parts in shifting dynamics (one of the inherent problems faced by composers for guitar and orchestra is the tricky blend of a large ensemble and one of the softest dynamic instruments around).

The second movement, "Reflections," grows more ruminative and harmonically restless, gliding around tension points of dissonance into emotive, Spanish-tinged flourishes that bring to mind that most famous work in the guitar concerto repertoire, Rodrigo's "Concerto de Aranjuez." Things become flush-cheeked again with the finale, "Celebration," opening with a joyful tune that dances through a series of variations and detours.

In Bernstein's music, we can hear glimpses of the orchestral sweep of the composer who scored "The Magnificent Seven," as well as the modernist who gave "The Grifters" its acerbic, Weill-esque wink. But, more important, it is music for its own sake, by a composer perfectly capable of writing "pure" music.

What Bernstein has wrought here is a healthy and valuable addition to the too-slim ranks of guitar concertos. As played by Parkening, a player whose virtuosity never gets in the way of his natural musicality, it shines with extra luster.

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The New York-based jazz group Spirals will give a concert at Ventura College on Tuesday in the cafeteria's Fireside Lounge. Its members--pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Don Peretz--have a collective resume that includes work with such jazz notables as Brad Mehldau, Billy Hart, Phil Woods and Ray Brown. In NYC, they've worked at the Blue Note and the Knitting Factory.

DETAILS

Spirals, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Fireside Lounge at the Ventura College cafeteria, 4667 Telegraph Road; admission is free, but a $10 donation is asked.

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If you are in search of something more mainstream, even neo-swing, check out the Les Rose Swing Jazz Ensemble at 66 California on Saturday.

Rose's group released a saucy little CD called "Jump Swing Boogie" two years ago, and the title pretty much sums up the band's stylistic MO. The basic idea is to play the kind of swing stuff that gets young dancers dancing and has fueled the craze partly started by our own Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but to do it with seasoned musicians who know how to get around on their instruments.

DETAILS

Les Rose Swing Band at 66 California, 66 California St., Ventura; 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 648-2266.

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

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