Chamber ensembles seem to delight on occasion in offering one or more programs devoted entirely to the works of one composer--the 16 quartets of Beethoven, the six quintets of Mozart, etc. Now, along comes the young, New York-based Mendelssohn Quartet, appearing here Jan. 16 and 17 in a pair of back-to-back concerts.

No, the agenda is not devoted to the group's namesake. Here's a hint: The concerts are at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at USC.

"Actually, the institute came to us about doing the Schoenberg quartets," says violist Ira Weller. "It will be the first time we've done all five in such a short period, so I'm as curious as anyone how it will work out."

Just as a traversal of the Beethoven quartets permits performer and listener to observe the composer's maturation, so too do the Schoenberg works offer an opportunity to view his musical growth.

"The cycle really gives an overview of the progress of German 20th-Century music," Weller points out. "From the pre-Opus 1 of the 1897 Quartet, which is more Dvorak and Brahms than Schoenberg, we travel to the Quartet No. 1, long and tonal and sort of sounding somewhere between Mahler and Strauss.

"In the Second, the one with soprano (local singer Jacalyn Wehmhoff will join the performance), Schoenberg begins to move away from tonality. And the final two, of course, are 12-tone, though almost Haydnesque in their wit and conciseness."

The Mendelssohn Quartet, which also appears in a sold-out concert at Doheny Mansion on Friday, made its local debut last season at Ambassador Auditorium as part of the Gold Medal series. Formed in 1979 at the Hebrew Arts School in New York (where it serves as a resident ensemble), the group decided on the name almost casually, Weller explains.

"We liked the way it sounded and the way it looked," he says. "And we also liked Mendelssohn's quartets. We try not to make a big deal out of the name, although we have done complete programs of his quartets, mixed with the five of Schoenberg. Surprisingly, they work well together."

Weller, 29, is joined by three equally young players: violinists Laurie Smukler (Weller's wife) and Nicholas Mann, plus cellist Marcy Rosen. Mann, incidentally, is the son of the Juilliard Quartet's first violinist, Robert Mann. Has that connection been an influence?

"I would say not," Weller replies. "In my early days, I spent a lot of time listening to Budapest Quartet recordings and Laurie listened to the Guarneri. Nick, of course, grew up with the Juilliard. But, after five years together, we're beginning to develop our own sound."

DANCE IN TWO DIMENSIONS: A series of video screenings will be presented at the Pilot Theatre II in Hollywood beginning Monday at 8 p.m. Assembled by Nancy Mason Hauser, director of the sponsoring Los Angeles Area Dance Alliance's Dance/Video Center, the programs will be presented on the second Monday of each month. Contributors range from noted choreographers (Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, etc.) and lesser known East Coast artists to local choreographers, such as Rudy Perez, Alfred Desio, Katja Biesanz, Mary Daval and Mary Jane Eisenberg. The opening program lists videos by Monk, David Gordon, Perez, Desio and Biesanz.

The world premiere screening of "That's Dancing!" will benefit Bella Lewitzky's Dance Gallery Jan. 17 at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. A compilation of excerpts from over 150 features and videos, the film includes a scene cut from "The Wizard of Oz," featuring Ray Bolger and Judy Garland. Many of the dozens of stars represented in the film are expected to attend the screening. Information: 274-3264.

BACH FEST CANCELED: The Pasadena Chamber Orchestra has scrapped plans for its fifth annual Pasadena Festival of Composers--this year devoted, naturally, to Bach, and tentatively scheduled for the first weekend of February.

The reason is an all-too-familiar one: money. "This is our make-up year," explained the orchestra's managing director Fran di Blasi. "The board made the decision to cut us back. Our deficit from last year was $34,500 and the budget for the weekend festival was $50,000, so it was the obvious thing to cut out."

With the dates "penciled in," according to Di Blasi, plans had proceeded to secure a soloist--flutist Julius Baker--and a lecturer--Christoph Wolff. Both were unable to attend. "Wolff would only tell us he was busy," Di Blasi said, "and we sure found out what he meant by that (a reference to Wolff's discovery last month of more than 30 previously unknown Bach chorale preludes)."

Currently in its eighth season, the Pasadena ensemble, led by Robert Duerr, is in the middle of "a nice fund-raising campaign," Di Blasi noted. "We should finish this year on good, solid footing." And the next composers festival? "We are planning one for February, '86, though it may take place in late '85, so we can continue referring to it as an 'annual' event."

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