MUSIC REVIEW : Stokes Premiere Closes Santa Monica Season


The final Santa Monica Symphony program of the season peaked early, Sunday night, when music director Allen Robert Gross began the evening with the West Coast premiere of a boisterous recent symphony by a quirky American composer.

Eric Stokes' nearly 15-minute-long romp, "Ghost Bus to Eldorado" (1990), is an engaging, accessible and colorful piece--the fourth in a series of disjointed symphonies the 62-year-old, New Jersey-born, Minnesota-bound composer has assembled. It gives the orchestra much to do, and the listener much action and many events to follow, with little letup.

Its first and second movements juxtapose chaotic, kaleidoscopic jumbles with a creaky and rocklike, glacially moving near-silence. Its finale brings together opposing musical forces, mostly tonal, in a fascinating mix.

Stokes' music has been called "Whitmanesque"; this piece is more like Spike Jones with an attitude, or Carl Ruggles on a binge. In any case, it is undoubtedly pleasure-giving. Gross and his accomplished orchestra probed its intricacies handily.

The rest of the concert proceeded apace, without again reaching a high-energy plateau.

Gary Bovyer was the virtuosic and mellow soloist in a handsome reading of Weber's First Clarinet Concerto, completing a short survey begun four years ago, when this orchestra, with Gary Gray, presented the composer's Second Concerto. Bovyer met all technical challenges effortlessly, and sang out Weber's irresistible melodies with freshness and panache. Temporally aligned but often unfocused, the accompaniment did not match the soloist's passion.

Mozart's final symphony, called "Jupiter," also moved along, without rising above the mundane. Neither Gross' vigorous conducting nor the players' conscientious performance added to our knowledge of the work's stature. Pleasant but earthbound, this reading failed to go beyond the dutiful.

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