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Rudely Upstaged

Multimedia show distracts from Holst's 'Planets.'


For the record, the first half of the New West Symphony's kickoff concert began promisingly enough. Aptly, a fanfare stoked the season's engines, with one of the lesser-played of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" marches. The orchestra's principal cellist, Cecilia Tsan, came to the stage front and demonstrated her persuasive eloquence as a soloist, despite a few rough spots, on Elgar's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.

It was a British evening, leading up to that sturdy orchestral tone poem, Gustav Holst's "The Planets." Holst's work, written in 1914, is a big, agreeably post-romantic piece, full of bravura, sensitivity and ethereal contemplation.

But, alas, the second half was, to tap Monty Python's parlance, something completely different. A multimedia wingding featuring a blend of actual high-definition photographs of the planets courtesy of NASA and elaborate computer animation, it was part light show, science lesson, interstellar travelogue, and, oh yes, symphony concert.

To be fair, the separate parts fared well, where the whole suffered. Boris Brott led his orchestra in a fine, rich reading of the score--despite the frequent interruptions, not to mention a clap-happy audience chiming in between movements. The visual presentation, by Hatch Productions, was in itself often dazzling.

But alas, the marriage was doomed from the outset. We have been duly trained by prolonged exposure to film and television to consider music a secondary, supportive element in audio-visual productions, and therefore, the concert stage was effectively hijacked.

Fears that narrator Gordon Cooper would actually talk over the orchestral handiwork were eased early on. Cooper, a former astronaut who went into orbit on one of the Mercury missions in the early 1960s and who now lives in Ventura County, offered brief introductions to each segment, with interesting factoids about various planets (Holst's piece is in only seven parts, as he didn't include Earth, and Pluto was not yet discovered.)

But what of visual talk-over? What of music for music's sake? Isn't the concert stage virtually the last refuge of things musical, free from the data overload encountered in other areas of mass culture? Other questions struck the listener like so many tiny asteroids of irritation, such as: Did Holst really imagine that his poetic interpretation of planetary inspiration would wind up as background music for a visual spectacular?

A classical concert isn't, and should never be, an A&E channel interlude, with pretty pictures accompanying the classics and making it more palatable to the restless senses in the MTV era. To do so is to surrender the fight for pure music. Let's hope this isn't the start of a less-than-beautiful relationship with extra-musical gimmickry.

Jazz on the Waterfront: You may find yourself at the Bowlful of Blues on Sunday, experiencing a "what's wrong with this picture?" moment, noticing that the Bowlful of Blues features neither a bowl nor blues. But that's not a bad thing. In its 18th year, the Bowlful has moved from the Libbey Bowl to Lake Casitas, while keeping its catchy, alliterative name. And, on the programming front, Sunday's portion of the weekend-long festival is given over to jazz talents from the area.

This is a positive move on several fronts, in part because this is the first year in more than a decade that the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival, normally staged this time of year, hasn't given that broad public forum to jazz. Director Peter Clarke, still stinging from last year's artistically ambitious and fiscally disastrous edition, decided to take a year off.

Saturday's lineup celebrates the blues, but Sunday is something else, a chance to hear the finest jazz acts in the Ventura-Santa Barbara area, as well as to showcase the diversity here.

The show will feature trumpeter Jeff Elliott, who worked with Les McCann for many years, and his quartet; the formidable Latin jazz of the Estrada Brothers; and Jimmy Calire, the only player featured on both the blues and jazz sides, who will play in an organ trio. In addition, Teka will display her fine Brazilian-jazz wares, and the notable SBCC Jazz Band--which has traditionally been a highlight of the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival--brings big band culture lakeside. It should be a swinging time.


Bowlful of Blues, 2-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday at the Lake Casitas Recreation Area. Tickets for Saturday are $23 in advance and $25 at the gate, for Sunday, $15 in advance and $17 at the gate, and a two-day pass is $35; 646-7230;

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