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. . . and Then We Have the Critics : <i> Uniting disparate art events around a common theme in a three-month festival setting is quite a challenge. How successful was the UK/LA ’88 Festival in doing that? An assessment follows: : </i>

Music And Dance

Uncomfortable question: When is a festival not a festival? Nasty answer: When it is called UK/LA ’88.

The hype in the fancy brochure was brash. We were invited to “take a 3-month cultural tour of Britain without leaving L.A.” That sounded nice.

The sponsors promised an “encounter with what’s new, different and delightful in British arts.” The fare, we were assured, would provide “a unique opportunity . . . to enjoy a diversified cross section of some of the best of British arts today.”

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Balderdash.

The sporadic musical offerings turned out to be generally timid, unrepresentative, ultra-traditional and/or just plain dull. Dance was represented by a single, singularly minor, event.

Most of the “unique” programming, moreover, involved operas and concerts that would have been presented here anyway. The majority had been announced and scheduled long before anyone had dreamed up--or improvised--any festive umbrella.

The Music Center Opera certainly would have given us its precious-picturesque “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and cutesy-unorthodox “Mikado” regardless of the official British connection. The dubiously motivated addition of Gordon Getty’s vapid, quasi-professional concert piece, “Plump Jack,” need not detain us at this juncture.

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It takes no festival to persuade Andre Previn, the perfect Anglophile, to conduct Britten, Vaughan Williams and Walton. The New Music Group habitually surveys composers like Knussen, Birtwistle and Goehr; that is the mandate of the organization.

The L.A. Master Chorale needs no excuse to attempt the familiar “War Requiem,” and no special prodding can be required to make Los Angeles a tour stop for such ensembles as Simon Rattle’s Birmingham Symphony, Neville Marriner’s Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Jeffrey Tate’s English Chamber Orchestra.

Sometimes the UK/LA label looked very tenuous. Take, for instance, Arleen Auger’s recital at Ambassador. The American soprano happened to sing a single Purcell aria and-- presto change-o --her very mixed grille became part of the vaunted British orgy.

We did hear some nice string-quartet programs and small-orchestra concerts, to be sure. Even these, however, attested primarily to the survival of business as usual.

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The opportunity for something really new, different and delightful was missed at virtually every turn. It was a shame.

And a sham.


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