CLASSICAL MUSIC : SONOR Ready to Sound Off and Boost Its Reputation

When SONOR, UC San Diego's contemporary music ensemble, made its European debut at West Germany's 1988 Darmstadt music festival, it gained a new perspective. Not that SONOR had tired of playing for its loyal local audience.

"After Darmstadt, we all felt more ambitious to get the group out," said UCSD composer and conductor Rand Steiger.

Part of not keeping its light hidden under the UCSD bushel includes SONOR's New York debut in a concert at Columbia University's Ditson Hall on March 25. The following week SONOR will perform in the State University of New York at Buffalo's annual North American music festival. SONOR's loyal fans will hear this program first, however, at Thursday's 8 p.m. concert at Mandeville Auditorium. Among the offerings is the premiere of Roger Reynolds' lastest work, "Personae" for Violin and Orchestra; a performance of Bryan Ferneyhough's "La Chute d'Icare," and "Thallein" by Iannis Xenakis. (UCSD will host a Xenakis festival April 3-9 with the noted Greek composer in residence.)

"This project began last year with the request from Columbia that we bring works by Reynolds and Ferneyhough, as well as other composers associated with the group," Steiger said. Since its founding in 1976 by former UCSD composer Bernard Rands, SONOR has specialized in playing and interpreting the new compositions written by the cluster of composers associated with UCSD, as well as those who visit the university's music research facility, the Center for Music Experiment.

Steiger explained that, unlike most ensembles of its size--9 to 20 players, depending on the music's requirements--SONOR has no single artistic director.

"When Bernard founded the group, he assumed its artistic direction, but since he left, the group's direction has been worked out more democratically," he said. "At its best, this approach gives all the players a strong sense of involvement and a stake in the music. The weakness is that our programming could seem less coherent because it reflects so many different musical philosophies."

Steiger, 32, is one of the more recent additions to the roster of UCSD composers. He made his musical mark as one of the co-founders of the California E.A.R. Unit in Los Angeles, and is working on a commission to write a concerto for orchestra for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is scheduled to premiere the piece in January.

That suave maestro Lorin Maazel brings his Orchestre National de France to the Civic Theatre at 8 tonight with an all-Beethoven program. The orchestra, which played Los Angeles over the weekend and Mexico City last week, is in the middle of its eighth North American tour since the end of World War II. Founded as a radio orchestra sponsored by the French government, the Paris-based Orchestre National has championed contemporary European music at home and promulgated French music on its many tours.

Maazel's career on the podium reads like an entry in Ripley's "Believe It or Not." A conducting prodigy, Maazel made his bicoastal debut at age 9, conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Hollywood Bowl and an orchestra at the 1939 New York World's Fair. At age 16, he joined the Pittsburgh Symphony's violin section and later returned as that orchestra's music director. Maazel's discography of recordings runs into the hundreds, and he has won 10 of France's coveted Grand Prix du Disque awards.

The industrious American conductor has been music director of numerous European institutions, including the Berlin Radio Symphony and the Vienna State Opera. He has been associated with the Orchestre National de France since 1977; in 1988 he became its music director. Maazel's program tonight includes Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth symphonies, as well as the overture to the opera "Fidelio."

Go for Baroque. The performance of early music has never gained a secure foothold on the local music scene, but Nelson Huber intends to break precedent with a new vocal ensemble he is calling La Jolla Camerata. Huber, who is music director of La Jolla's St. James Episcopal Church, will select 10 voices for the group, which will specialize in baroque choral and vocal music. Huber stated that his singers would need to demonstrate clear vocal production and an understanding of basic Italian diction. Interested singers may schedule an audition by phoning Huber at 459-3421.

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