O.C. Performing Arts Center Broadens Music Menu, Books 2 Founders Hall Concerts

Times Staff Writer

In a move designed both to beef up its musical menu and to make greater use of its facilities, the Orange County Performing Arts Center has booked two small-scale concerts, one jazz and one classical, in the 299-seat Founders Hall theater for the weekend of July 22-23.

The Turtle Island String Quartet, a Bay Area group acclaimed for its genre-jumping blend of classical musicianship with improvisational jazz technique, plans two shows July 22, at 7:30 and 10 p.m. On July 23, pianist Armen Guzelimian and three members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will give a recital at 4 p.m. of quartets by Brahms and Faure.

The decision to use Founders Hall, which is chiefly a rehearsal room, is "a way to recognize artists we couldn't recognize in the larger hall," Center President Thomas R. Kendrick said.

The Turtle Island quartet represents the more significant departure from a Center tradition that has featured mostly well-known, low- or no-risk performers on its Big Band and contemporary jazz series in the 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall.

The quartet is a relatively new group that has had little exposure outside serious jazz circles. Its members are as likely to draw upon bluegrass, American and international folk music and rock--elements that have been in short supply at the Center since it opened in 1986.

However, the Center performance will not be a foreign experience for the group. "We've played all different kinds of venues," cellist Mark Summer said in a recent phone interview from his home in Oakland.

"We just played as part of a chamber music series at Stanford. We didn't know how that was going to go over because it was more of a classical audience. And we played on a chamber music series in Chicago. . . . People seem to be responding well, even when they haven't heard us before."

Violinist David Balakrishnan (the group has a standard string-quartet lineup of two violins, viola and cello) was nominated for a Grammy Award last year for his arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Night in Tunisia." And Times jazz critic Leonard Feather named the ensemble "instrumental group of 1988."

"This is the kind of artist everybody here believes we want to feature as they develop and come into prominence," the Center's Kendrick said.

However, on the few occasions that the Center ventured away from its regular diet of ballet, classical music, opera and musical theater bookings to offer pop and jazz shows, it has taken some criticism for the lack of adventuresome bookings.

"The idea behind bringing in the Turtle Island quartet is another way of coming at that problem," Kendrick acknowledged. "It's not the same as trying to put Bernadette Peters or Peter Allen in (Segerstrom Hall).

"The other concern we have is the smaller group, the one that is not known and cannot sell tickets for the larger hall. . . . (It) is maybe even more important to expose those groups that do not have the (widespread) visibility. We are very interested in that."

Kendrick said these bookings represent an interim measure to broaden the Center's artistic scope while awaiting the planned construction of one or two more theaters of different sizes that would give the arts complex greater flexibility and range. "We would like to broaden the range for our core audience, and we would like to bring new people in," he said.

Center officials have frequently cited competition from the Pacific and Irvine Meadows amphitheaters for the kind of pop acts they would like to book into Segerstrom Hall, but Kendrick said he does not anticipate bidding wars with local concert clubs over acts envisioned for Founders Hall.

"I don't think you can call what we would be doing competition," he said. "It's in such a limited, short form (for the Center), while it is their (the clubs') consistent fare. I don't think art centers create competition--they generate more interest in the arts. The more opportunity there is, the more interest there is."

But Ken Phebus, booking agent at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, the county's leading rock, pop and jazz concert club, said: "Anybody who's got a stage and seats is competition to me."

"My job is to book this place ever day of the month with a potential sellout show," Phebus said. "If we end up bumping heads on a particular act, we intend to get it. That's true if it's the Celebrity Theatre (in Anaheim) or the Performing Arts Center or the Marquee (in Westminster) or Jezebel's (in Anaheim). If we want it, we're going to get it."

But--after repeating that the availability of Founders Hall is severely limited because of its primary function as a rehearsal hall--Kendrick said: "If these shows are successful, we would try to maximize the use of that hall. . . .

"If this doesn't work, that doesn't mean we will not try again. If this works in this area, I think, for instance, there are emerging country singers who are not suited to Segerstrom Hall that we could consider."

The July 23 recital in Founders Hall will feature Guzelimian and violinist Mitchell Newman, violist Ralph Fielding and cellist Barry Gold. They will play Faure's quartet in C minor and Brahms' quartet in G minor.

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