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Artfully Composed

September 15, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Several years before his death in 1998, the respected composer Mel Powell--whose music will be the centerpiece of a concert at CalArts next Wednesday--was speaking in an interview about the life of a contemporary composer in the twilight of the 20th century.

Powell, who helped co-found the music department at California Institute of the Arts and whose achievements included winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his piece "Duplicates: A Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra," knew something about the life and social status of the living composer.

"Really, it's awfully easy now for anybody to hang out a shingle and say 'I am a composer,' because no one knows and no one cares," Powell said.

"That's very different from Haydn having to provide Esterhazy with music because the people were coming to the estate. There was no other way to have music. There were no CDs, no DATs or anything of the sort. There was an absolute, real need that had to be filled."

Powell had a way of putting things succinctly and wittily and imparting a sense of mission in his students.

He was, in a word, a nucleus of the CalArts music department experience.

It makes perfect sense, then, to have Powell as a centerpiece of the kickoff concert of the new Chamber Music Wednesdays series on campus.

Mark Menzies, who is CalArts' coordinator of western instrumental studies and also teaches violin and viola, put the series together.

This is the first of several concerts that will run through next spring. Menzies views the series as a precursor to similar programs that CalArts will present at the REDCAT theater (an acronym for Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater) in the long-awaited Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

A 350-seat theater has been set aside for CalArts-related events.

The series brings together factions of the CalArts music department.

"One of the central things we do with our teaching program here is that students learn alongside other students, but also the faculty. For example, the advanced students play 20 concerts with faculty in chamber music," Menzies said.

"We thought it would be very elegant and easy to start the year off with some of the music we had done on that CD," he said.

"But of course, it's also symbolic of him being a founder of the music department here.

He has had many distinguished students, so we thought having some of these students' music, as well, would be appropriate."

BE THERE

"Mel Powell and Beyond," Wednesday, 8 p.m., Roy O. Disney Hall, CalArts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia. Free admission. (661) 253-7832.

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