CLASSICAL NOTEBOOK : ‘String Language’ Adds Eloquence to Conductor’s Musical Interpretations


David M. Aks, new director of the Cal State Northridge Symphony Orchestra, thinks of himself as a conductor who plays the cello.

“It’s important to keep up an active part in playing so you don’t lose sympathy with people on the other side of the baton,” said Aks, who will make his debut with the orchestra Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Student Union at CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff St.

Balancing the two disciplines is nothing new for Aks, who began conducting at age 13 under the influence of his father, who was also a conductor.


Aks received a master’s degree in conducting from Oberlin College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in cello performance. He said he found that having a background as a string player is extremely helpful to him as a conductor because it allows him to “talk to string players in string language,” something that might be more difficult for a conductor who was a brass or reed player.

As a new arrival from the University of South Florida, he chose the CSUN program partly because he knew the works and partly because it would display the orchestra’s ability. Aks said he chose the major selection, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, because he wanted something big and beautiful. “Also, I’d done it before, so in a period of adjustment, it was a familiar friend,” he said.

He said he chose Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” because it is a crystal-clear lyrical piece that contrasts nicely with the Brahms and Georges Enesco’s “Romanian Rhapsody No. 1” because it makes for a “slam-bang beginning.”

But not all of Aks’ thoughts are orchestral. He said he enjoys playing the cello because “it’s a release to make music by yourself and not be dependent on whether the players have practiced. You just sit down and play.”

Tickets for the concert are $5, $2 for senior citizens and students.

The Los Angeles Solo Repertory Orchestra will open its 20th season with a concert next Sunday in the Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

As the name suggests, the community orchestra emphasizes the use of soloists, and this program will feature Mozart’s Concerto for Bassoon with soloist Paul Schneider, and harpist David Ice in Dave Grusin’s “Anasazi” under the direction of James A. Swift. The concert will also feature Liszt’s setting of the 13th Psalm with the Grant African Methodist Episcopal Choir, C.P.E. Bach’s Concerto for Orchestra and Beethoven’s “Heavens Are Telling.” Admission is free.

Also next Sunday, Daniel Kessner, professor of music composition at CSUN, will conduct the New Music Ensemble in works by Arnold Schoenberg, George Crumb and Chris Piper. The performance will be at 8 p.m. in the recital hall. Tickets are $5, $2 for students and senior citizens.

Meanwhile, the CSUN Wind Symphony, under the direction of Gary Pratt, will perform Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. in the Student Union. David Whitwell will conduct the CSUN Wind Ensemble in a program Oct. 21 at 8 p.m., also in the Student Union. Tickets are $5, $2 for students and senior citizens.

Opera will return to the San Fernando Valley in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” beginning Oct. 21 and 22 at the CSUN Little Theatre. The production, a collaboration of the music and drama departments, will be sung in English and conducted by David Scott. Performances are also scheduled 8 p.m. Oct. 25, 26, 28 and 29. Tickets are $9, $6.50 for senior citizens, faculty and staff, and $4.50 for students.

The month will conclude with a major work, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, in a performance by the Valley Master Chorale at Northridge and the San Fernando Valley Symphony under the direction of John Alexander.

The concert, at 8 p.m. Oct. 22, will be given in the auditorium of Reseda High School, 18230 Kittridge St. The program will include Mozart’s “ Vesperae Solennes de Confessore .” Tickets are $7.50 to $12.50, $5.50 to $9.50 for senior citizens, groups and students.