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Celestial Sounds

Symphonic music returns from summer hiatus, starting with Holst's 'The Planets.'


As of this weekend, symphonic sounds are coming to venues near you, breaking the summer-long hiatus. For those of us who find a particular and inimitable pleasure in hearing a live orchestra, it's a happy time of year.

Space is the theme of the New West Symphony's season-opener, to a surprising degree. At the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza tonight and the Oxnard Performing Arts Center on Saturday, conductor Boris Brott will lead his orchestra into its sixth season to the tune of Gustav Holst's enjoyably impressionistic tone poem, "The Planets."

A real-time, real-space perspective will be added to the performance as Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper--a Ventura resident--narrates a special visual presentation with planetary imagery and computer animation.

Closing the show on terra firma, cellist Cecilia Tsan will perform Elgar's Cello Concerto.

On paper, the New West season this year looks fairly conservative. The program sticks, by and large, to tried-and-true classics and sure-fire composers, though Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra arrives in the spring. But judging from past performance, we can count on the orchestra to make music worth hearing.


The New West Symphony at 8 tonight at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., and at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way in Oxnard. Tickets are $8-67; 497-5800.


ALSO IN THOUSAND OAKS: Next Thursday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will make its second (and hopefully) annual fall trip to the Civic Arts Plaza, led by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who can safely be called a hero of Southern California culture by now. Salonen, though officially on sabbatical through January, will lead the orchestra in a French program, with Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and "La Mer," as well as Ravel's "Ma Mere l'oye" and his punch-drunk charmer, "La Valse."


The Los Angeles Philharmonic, at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets are $9-60; 583-8700.

GOING NORTH: In other regional symphonic news, the Santa Barbara Symphony celebrates two notable, albeit divergent, events this week. Although the symphony's season doesn't officially open until Oct. 7, it will be heard at the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight as the "backup band" for Brian Wilson, the brains of the Beach Boys.

In a program performed in various locales with resident orchestras, Wilson will rely on orchestral arrangements by his old collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, in presenting a fleshed-out version of his classic album "Pet Sounds."

Although ostensibly a Beach Boys album, "Pet Sounds" is really Wilson's inspired handiwork, and his most masterful achievement, using studio musicians as well as his own playing and singing. To hear it with orchestral garb attached should be something to behold.

As for the other news on the Santa Barbara Symphony front, Tuesday will see the release of the orchestra's second CD, an ambitious and important world premiere recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Symphony No. 10, "Amerindia," on the Koch label. The symphony's well-received debut recording came two years ago, with music of Silvestre Revueltas, a specialty of the symphony's chance-taking maestra, Gisele Ben-Dor.

And as it happens, the Villa-Lobos opus was given its U.S. premiere last January in Santa Barbara as a centerpiece of Ben-Dor's impressive Revueltas festival. An epic piece with epic intentions, Villa-Lobos' symphony, which doubles as an oratorio, is a noble effort to merge the European classical tradition with indigenous elements from his native Brazil.

Written for the 400th anniversary of Sao Paulo in 1952, its rippling text is in the different languages of Spanish, Portuguese and the native Tupi tongue, just as its musical language oscillates between cultures and historical references--from the 19th century to the mid-20th.

If too unwieldy and unfocused to be called a great work, it can at least be called an important statement with several moving passages. Its unabashedly romantic energies probably ensured a marginal place in the modernist era of the 1950s classical world, but a generally atmospheric sweep keeps the piece vibrant before our ears.

This recording has international significance, filling out the ranks of available music by this great Brazilian composer. But it is also a coup for local musical forces, as galvanized by Ben-Dor into a respectable shape and polish. In addition to the symphony, the Santa Barbara Choral Society and the UC Santa Barbara Chamber Choir add to the work's choral heft. Soloists in the mix are baritone Nmon Ford-Livene, mezzo-soprano Carla Wood and tenor Carlo Scibelli.

Incidental local color: The recording was done in the Oxnard Performing Arts Center in January.


Brian Wilson with the Santa Barbara Symphony, performing the music of "Pet Sounds," at 7 tonight at the Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas St. Tickets are $28-65; (805) 962-7411.

Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at

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