From many practical standpoints, the foyer of City Hall isn't ideally suited to the presentation of concerts. The seating and the sight lines are limited, at best. But who needs practicality where art and ambience are concerned?
The 10th anniversary season of Ventura's "City Hall Concerts" kicked off nicely Friday night in a program featuring the local Albani Trio and pianist Sofia Cosma. The musicians cleanly dispatched a program leaning heavily on the romantic impulses of Beethoven and Brahms, ensconced in the marbled splendor of City Hall. Overall, the concert proved that a musical evening spent in one of Ventura's most prized historical buildings is a fine way to mix pleasure and business.
Presented by the Ventura Arts Council and the city Department of Parks and Recreation and directed, as in years past, by Robert Lawson, the series will include a keyboard and flute concert by Bryan and Susan Pezzone on May 17 and a recital by guitarist Carlos Gonzalez on June 15.
Anyone lured by the series title, "Composers on the Cutting Edge," might have wondered if they had walked into the wrong place Friday. The fare, at least for this concert, amounted to more of a comforting midriff than a cutting edge.
Fittingly, the program began with a piece at once the newest and oldest of the three. Hanning Schroder's "Ach bittrer Winter" was written in 1954, but is based on a variation of a 17th-Century German folk song. Violist Mark Hatchard and cellist Christine Salazar "discussed" the theme in varying emotional shades, respecting the calm, simple luster of the underlying melody.
Violinist Melissa Phelps completed the Trio, joining in on Beethoven's Serenade in D Major, Opus 8. The Albani Trio, whose members play in the symphony and have various relationships to the Ventura scene, work up a rich collective tone and maintain a taut weave. The seven-movement Serenade engages the musicians in a lively three-way dialogue, and the musicians' rapport helped make it emotionally persuasive.
Cosma, one of Ventura County's more illustrious musical citizens, attended well to the often intense technical demands of Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 25. Despite its title, the piece places a fairly democratic emphasis on the "supporting" players.
For those in search of the advertised "cutting edge," the next two concerts in the series feature gamier, more contemporary fare, including music by Villa-Lobos and Boulez. Still, Friday's romantic agenda resonated well in this historic setting. There is an appealing sense of poetic justice in hearing chamber music just down the marble stairway from the chambers of the City Council.
MOZART PATROL, ETC.:
During halftime at City Hall, Ventura Symphony conductor Frank Salazar could be found egging on the Trio's musicians, of whom Christine Salazar is one of his four musical progeny. The symphony is closing its current concert season May 4 and 5 with a program that--typically, thankfully--veers from tradition to esoterica and back again.
For tradition's sake, there is Mozart's rightfully beloved "Jupiter" symphony, the last of his three symphonies that the Ventura Symphony will have played in the past three successive concerts. Respect has thus been duly paid to this bicentennial "celebration" of Mozart's death. Another perennial crowd-pleaser, Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto in C Minor, will feature guest pianist James Barbagallo.
But the most intriguing item on Salazar's menu is the spunky piece titled "Redes" (Nets), a symphonic suite by the late Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940). Revueltas was born the day before the turn of the century and, with little schooling, went on to become assistant conductor under Mexican musical titan Carlos Chavez. As a conductor, Revueltas introduced works by Stravinsky, Milhaud and Honegger to Mexican audiences.
It wasn't until age 30 that he began composing, writing mostly shorter works in a style that organically blended modernism and folk musics of Mexico. "Redes" was a film score adapted to a symphonic work. It has some of the pictorial charm of Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," but with rougher edges and sudden shifts in temperament.
Salazar on Revueltas: "If Chavez is considered the Copland of Mexico, Revueltas is the Charles Ives. Chavez incorporates Mexican music and puts it in a European framework. Revueltas doesn't try to be Mexican. He is Mexican, naturally, in the same way that Ives is American and Emerson, Hawthorne and the Alcotts were American."
In a biographical treatise that Revueltas wrote in 1938, two years before his death at age 40, the composer said: "Sky, water, mountains were my first loves. Then, music. And later, the music that is inside one."
UP THE COAST, UP THE TRADITION:
Speaking of esoterica butting into tradition, the acclaimed ROVA Saxophone Quartet will play in the area for the first time as part of the Jazz and World Music Society's spring concert season, at the Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara at 8 p.m. May 4. Thirteen years back, the ROVA began as an outgrowth of the experimental music scene in San Francisco. Now, with several fine albums in the bins (mostly on import labels and also the Bay Area-based New Albion records), a sparkling critical reputation and a cult following, ROVA is a vet amongst upstarts.
The quartet draws inspiration from a lot of musical wells--not just jazz, but free improvisation, ethnic tonalities, rhythm and blues--even Charles Ives. They're as American as an abstract Expressionist painter's vision of apple pie.
* WHERE AND WHEN
* The Ventura Symphony will perform Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony, Revueltas' "Redes" (Nets), a symphonic suite, and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor (with James Barbagallo at piano) at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium, May 4 at 8 p.m. and May 5 at 3 p.m.
* The ROVA Saxophone Quartet will perform at Center Stage Theater, Santa Barbara, May 4 at 8 p.m.