MUSIC REVIEW : Society Offers Young Artists, New Steinway at Irvine Bowl

Times Music Writer

Just when we thought it was safe to put away our outdoor-concert hiking shoes, along comes a post-summer season event. Or rather, a late-September, alfresco concert that bridged the gap between seasons.

In celebration of the 1989 Orange County Centennial, the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society put together a young artists showcase in outdoor Irvine Bowl at Laguna Beach.

The free, intermissionless concert offered merely five pieces of music, three of them excerpts from concertos. Yet, between starting nearly half an hour late and offering stage waits between every item, the 4 p.m. event still managed to last until 5:40.

Much of this time was well spent. At the beginning, tribute was paid to a pioneer in Orange County music, conductor Frieda Belinfante, the 84-year-old founder of the orchestra and organization that eventually became the county's largest impresario of classical music, the Orange County Philharmonic Society.

Belinfante conducted the ad hoc orchestra--whose members were inexplicably dressed in black for a matinee in September--in Mozart's Overture to "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail," to open this event, and did so with aplomb. Despite tinny amplification--Irvine Bowl remains notorious for its sound system--the little ensemble played neatly enough.

At the end of the program, and under John Koshak, the orchestra did the same for Beethoven's "Prometheus" Overture.

In between, violinist Julie McKenzie, cellist Marty Jaques and pianist Jerry Wong gave distinctly student-like readings of the first movements of, respectively, Mozart's G-major Violin Concerto, Boccherini's B-flat Cello Concerto and Beethoven's "Emperor."

They were not helped by the tubby-sounding amplification or by apparently unbalanced instrumental accompaniments. A minor glitch in temporal alignment between piano and orchestra in the recapitulation of the "Emperor" was solved without serious incident.

Incidentally, the Chamber Music Society's new, reportedly $48,000 Steinway piano made its first public appearance in the "Emperor" concerto. In this brief hearing, marred only by the distractions of crying babies, audience conversation and passing aircraft, it passed at least one hard test: the test of being used out of doors.

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