A Treat and a Surprise


Each summer, the Music Academy of the West’s repertoire includes some predictable treats, along with choice surprises. This Saturday night’s orchestral concert at the Lobero Theatre offers both: Revered conductor Jeffrey Tate returns to lead the orchestra for the seventh time, and he’ll be performing the Fourth Symphony of Witold Lutoslawski.

The Music Academy’s musical agenda can be relied on for many things, but 20th-century emphasis is not one of them, which makes this a special occasion. Polish composer Lutoslawski (1913-1994) was one of those prodigious artists who gained creative momentum and renown in his later years for neatly balancing traditional musical language with experimental ideas.

The Fourth Symphony, finished in 1992, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and premiered with the composer conducting. The piece was recorded for SONY Classical with Esa-Pekka Salonen at the helm.

On Saturday, it hits Santa Barbara, in the good hands of the English-born Tate, and he has fine material to work with. The Music Academy Festival orchestra, one of the boldest student-based ensembles you’re ever liable to hear, will tackle the Lutoslawski, sandwiched between Wagner’s prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony.


NEW MUSIC IN OLD TOWN: Last weekend, the musical pulse quickened in downtown Ventura, courtesy of the “Strummin’ and Struttin”’ festival. In front of the Ventura Theatre early Saturday night, the MacKinnon’s Scottish Highland Dancers and Bagpipers issued their rich, reedy sound, vying with the usual ambient soundtrack in downtown Ventura, the roar of race cars from the Fairgrounds.

Later that night, the picking inside the Ventura Theatre included variations on bluegrass from John Mceuen--with sons Jonathan and Nathan and fiddler Phil Salazar in tow; and headliner Mark Insley, with guest of honor Albert Lee, the inspiring guitaristwho repeatedly stole the show with his understated virtuosity.

Meanwhile, out on the fringes of town at Art City II, a very different kind of musical heat was being generated as part of the New Music concert series presented by Jeff Kaiser. This time out, the stage belonged to the improvisational power trio of electric bassist Steuart Liebig, reed player Vinnie Golia and drummer Billy Mintz--all Los Angeles-based players of no small reputation on the fringe jazz scene.

The Art City II gallery is a fine space for music as well as art, and, fortunately, has of late been pressed more often into service for performances. With its open-raftered space and corrugated metal roof, it looks like a combination farm building and art outpost, an embodiment of the overused term “alternative,” in its original meaning. It was an ideal locale for a night of poetic blowing.


This trio, with no chordal instrument in sight, puts out a full, varied sound. In the suite-like 75-minute piece in the concert’s first half, propulsion and density were never lacking, thanks to the general ferocity of Golia’s approach, and the thick low-end textures from Liebig. Mintz feels no compulsion to add to the tumult, instead offering lean utterances from the sidelines.

Golia brought along a handful of instruments from his famous collection, including the bizarre new straight tenor saxophone, a baritone sax, a soprano sax and a bass clarinet. Long a pillar among adventurous L.A. reedists, Golia seems to have bumped up to a new level of focused energy in the last few years, and he showed some of that fiery, no-holds-barred stuff here.

For his part, Liebig took advantage of the fluidity of his fretless six-string bass, and also managed to avoid an artistic debt to that oft-imitated master of the instrument, the late Jaco Pastorius.

Much of the music was abstract and challenging, but it surfed the range of expressions. In one notably tender, ethereal passage, Liebig had picked up his fretted six-string bass and produced ringing harmonics, swelling tones (courtesy of a volume pedal) and undulating loops with a delay unit. Golia laid out well-placed long tones on his bass clarinet, while Mintz issued a subtle array of sounds with mallets. It all added up to a lustrous textural palette.


Most important, the trio made music together, a simple but not always easy goal. It’s a philosophical bottom line in improvisation-based music. It was a hot time on the outer limits of old town.


Academy Festival Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Tate, Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, 33 W. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. Tickets, $23; (805) 963-0761.