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Layers of Sound

Cellist Frances-Marie Uitti delivers music that's bold and experimental.


Experimental music, by definition, defies tradition in the pursuit of something as-yet unheard.

For Frances-Marie Uitti, the experimental instinct led her to a simple yet expansive gesture as a young cellist growing up in Chicago.

She expanded her sound-producing potential by adding a second bow, so that the top bow slides across the top of the strings in the traditional manner while the bottom bow hits only the two outer strings. The result, with more layers and niches of sound than we expect from one string instrument, is simultaneously earthy and unearthly.

What seems a radical idea manifests itself in music of haunting beauty in Uitti's hands. By summoning up shifting sonic textures and relying heavily on improvisation rather than prescript material, Uitti conjures up a rich and ethereal atmosphere when she plays live. She paints with the thick palette of overtones that the cello is naturally endowed with, and tends to fill a room with weird wonder.

Tonight, the room will be the resonant space of the Ventura City Hall foyer, where the pfMENTUM New Music Concert Series is sponsoring Uitti's Ventura debut. Uitti's career thus far has included work with such noted composers as John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi, Elliot Carter and the late Iannis Xenakis, as well as musicians from the improv, left-end-of-jazz scene.

Her solo show at City Hall promises to expand anyone's preconception of the secret life of the cello.


Frances-Marie Uitti at 8 tonight in the Ventura City Hall Foyer, 500 Poli St. Tickets are $10; 676-9660.


Ojai Goes to the Americas: In recent years, emphasis at the Ojai Festival has been on various global points, from the Finnish musical direction of the 1999 festival, designed by Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, to the British/French flavor of last year's fest, led by famed Brit Sir Simon Rattle.

At this year's festival, running from May 30 to June 3, Salonen returns to the podium for his second run as music director, with the L.A. Philharmonic in tow, and the repertoire turns to the Americas. More specifically, the musical attentions are landing on Latin America, with an appearance by the Cuarteto Latinamericano and music by such revered composers as Mexico's Silvestre Revueltas, Brazil's Villa-Lobos, Cuban Tania Leon (whom we heard last spring as part of the New West Symphony's "Musics Alive!" Series), and others.

From North America, we'll hear Aaron Copland's "Night Thoughts," performed by Paul Crossley, and a piece of the acclaimed recent work "El Nino" by John Adams, who will also be present for a daylong symposium June 1 at the Ojai Center for the Arts. The title: "The New Musical Immigrants: A U.S./Latin-American Dialogue."

The Sunday morning concert on June 3 goes Brazilian, with a tribute to Jobim featuring Oscar Castro-Neves, Dory Caymmi and others.

Soprano Dawn Upshaw will be a special guest, giving a recital and singing at Sunday evening's closing concert.

At a news conference earlier this week, festival artistic director Ernest Fleischmann noted a greater emphasis this year on pre-concert talks. New York Times critic Paul Griffiths will be among visiting scholars in the "chalk talks."

"It's not so much that our audience is shrinking in numbers," said Fleischmann, who was director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for many years before taking over the Ojai Festival three years ago. "What has happened is that the perceptiveness of audiences is no longer what it was. We have a job in the field of music presentation. Audiences are hungry to learn more and get more out of the concert experience."


New West Showcase: This weekend's New West Symphony program shifts attention to . . . the New West Symphony. Other programs in the season cast a spotlight on guest soloists and soloists from the ensemble--as with next month's concert, featuring the New West's co-concertmaster, Elizabeth Pitcairn, performing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.

But this weekend, the orchestra is center stage, performing two picturesque works, Dvorak's "New World" Symphony and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."


New West Symphony at 8 tonight at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., and Saturday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way in Oxnard. Tickets are $8-67; 449-ARTS (449-2787).


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

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