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MUSIC REVIEW

Baroque meets Americana

August 21, 2003|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

Tuesday's light but satisfying concert at the Hollywood Bowl saw the return of faces familiar to local audiences. But the contexts were shuffled, and in more ways than one.

Conductor JoAnn Falletta, fondly remembered for her sure, enlivening hand with the Long Beach Symphony, presided over a pared-down string orchestra from the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Baroque-meets-contemporary-Americana program, which will be repeated tonight. The other special guest was violinist and composer Mark O'Connor, who passed through town earlier this year with a persona that paid homage to Stephane Grappelli and "hot jazz."

O'Connor seems to instinctively don multiple stylistic hats, and Tuesday night's offering was his fascinating and surprisingly effective "The American Seasons: Season of an American Life," for violin and orchestra.

Falletta and the band set up this sophisticated and down-home post-Vivaldi invention with a polished performance of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," O'Connor's inspiration. A rotating cast of violin soloists from the Philharmonic ranks, one per "season," kept it diverse, if a bit continuity-challenged. Still, the players -- Michele Bovyer, Akiko Tarumoto, Jonathan Wei and Stacy Wetzel -- acquitted themselves admirably.

O'Connor has his own instrumental flair, which he amply demonstrated in a smart performance capped by a dazzling improvised cadenza. From the outset of his "Seasons," his musical identity wavers in the neat-fitting solo parts between fiddler and violinist. In the writing, he establishes an unapologetic Copland connection, especially in the more upbeat outer movements, but also works up a nattering riff machinery suggesting his own minimalism tinged by Appalachian music. Such an eclectic mixture amounts to a tall compositional order, and one he seems uniquely gifted to pull off.

This wasn't a perfectly enchanted evening. There were a few loose-knit moments in the ensemble and too much applause between movements. But overall, O'Connor's meeting with Vivaldi, in the Bowl's outdoor splendor, worked a genuine magic, while demonstrating the heartening possibilities of integrating music spanning cultural and historical realms.

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