Music on a New Scale : Chamber Music at Performing Arts Center Set for a Sunday Afternoon

Times Staff Writer

Has the Orange County Performing Arts Center built up enough clout to make chamber music work on a Sunday afternoon?

The answer could come this weekend, when the Center presents pianist Armen Guzelimian and three members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a chamber music concert at 4 p.m. in the 300-seat Founders Hall. The event is half of a two-pronged foray this weekend into small-scale performance that also includes a pair of shows Saturday night with the Turtle Island String Quartet, a jazz group (see story below).

In less than three years since it opened, the Center has attracted a following for its ballet series better than even the most optimistic predictions envisioned.

Will that luck carry over into chamber music?

The Southwest Chamber Music Society produced its first season in 1988 on Sunday afternoons at Santa Ana High School, but met with disastrous results. Audiences wouldn't come--the best turnout was about 40 in the 1,500-seat facility--and the society was able to get off the ground only when it changed the time and location of its series to Saturday evenings at the Newport Harbor Art Museum.

Center President Thomas R. Kendrick, however, thinks the choice of Sunday at 4 p.m. is a good one. "This gives people the morning and the early part of the day for church and brunch, they have the use of the day, and it still gets them out early enough to enjoy dinner and the rest of the evening," he said.

"I may be wrong. This is certainly an experimental project."

The experiment will take place in the Founders Hall, used predominantly as a rehearsal room for the main-stage productions. On occasion, however, the hall also has been used for informal performances, children's programs with South Coast Repertory, and occasional recitals.

"When you look at it and see it every day, you know it can function in other ways, so you want to make it function if you can," Kendrick said.

He regards the hall as a venue for encouraging young artists or groups who "cannot effectively be presented in the large hall" or who "might not warrant presentation in a 3,000-seat (Segerstrom) hall."

"These kinds of facilities have been useful around the country in presenting up-and-coming young artists . . . or for different kinds of groups that play to smaller audiences."

At $20 a ticket, the Center could gross about $6,000. Even so, Kendrick said that in any event the venture will not be a money-making one. "We would like to cover our costs."

Regardless of the turnout for Sunday's concert, Kendrick said success will not be measured solely by this one weekend experience. Although no other programs have been announced, he said, "we're working on scheduling others."

Certainly the musicians express enthusiasm.

"We'll be playing in the middle (of the room), and the audience will be all around us," pianist Guzelimian said. "That is perfect for chamber-music intimacy. After all, the music was written for salons and small spaces."

The concert is also something of a musical experiment for the instrumentalists and, in fact, will be the first time the four--Guzelimian, violinist Mitchell Newman, violist Ralph Fielding and cellist Barry Gold--have played together publicly. They will play Brahms' Quartet in G minor and Faure's Quartet in C minor.

The association began when three of them appeared together last fall on the Los Angeles Philharmonic's chamber music series at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

"We all hit it off quite well," recalled cellist Gold, a member of the Philharmonic since 1982. "We wanted most definitely to continue our relationship playing together."

Like the others, violinist Newman, a Philharmonic member for 2 1/2 years, pursues chamber music because "it is different repertory, it gives a different type of satisfaction.

"I like and enjoy playing in an orchestra very much," he said. "I enjoy having the full sound around me. But there also is something very satisfying in being in a chamber group, hearing yourself play and making decisions for yourself instead of being told what to do in large group."

Pianist Armen Guzelimian and three members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will play works by Brahms and Faure at 4 p.m. on Sunday in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $20. Information: (714) 556-2787.

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