Staying Composed


In an age when music education has all but been yanked out of the school curriculum--treated as an unnecessary frill rather than a cultural imperative--the Ventura County-based "Voices" program has become a cause worth celebrating.

For three years now, noted composer Miguel del Aguila has led the education program at various spots in Ventura County, giving training and just plain encouragement to young composers, whose efforts are made public with an annual summertime concert.

This year's "Voices" concert, at the Ventura College Theater last week, offered further evidence of the success of the program, but more importantly, gave voice to considerable creative energies bubbling up from the youth of the region.

The tradition is getting richer by small degrees. Past concerts have relied heavily on available instrumental resources, usually the composers themselves performing their own and each other's music. But this year's concert featured guests from outside, including the Stanley Wind Ensemble, which offered a conscientious performance of Michael Fortunato's "Inertia," its romantic patchwork suggesting the influence of archival film scores.

A string quartet of violinists Hekar Rivera and Adam Gilson, violist Amy Motley and cellist Christina Allison played Daniel Black's String Quartet No. 1, a short but ambitious piece pumped up with affirmative energy.

Diversity ruled among this crop of young music makers, as each composer presented works without regard to any particular stylistic point of view. Dwight Hope's music for solo oboe leaned toward an atonal vocabulary, while Laurie Hope's piano pieces were simple and impressionistic forays.

David Schneider, a member of the program for three years who is heading off to USC this fall, showed evocative harmonic invention in his "Three Images for Piano"; a solo saxophone piece that tilts in the direction of jazz without ever quite committing to that genre; and the melancholy piece "The Death of the Duo," with the composer at piano behind soprano Arianna Simpson.

The sweet lilt of "Tropical Breeze" by Tezozomoc Vasquez falls somewhere between Latin Americana and Philip Glass' melodic calculations. Susana Montal is a fine singer and composer whose flamenco-based settings of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca were accompanied by dynamic guitar playing by Guillermo Rios.

The concert was, in short, a variety hour with a cause, and part of an inspiring, continuing saga in the county.


UNDER THE STARS: One of the regular summertime musical series in these parts is "Under the Stars," on an outdoor hilltop venue at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. It's just remote and rustic enough to give a sense of being outside the norm, always a pleasant illusion.

Genre is a flexible thing here--so far the series has hosted singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman and a big band swing night. On Aug. 15, singer Alberto Mizrahi will perform on the hill. This Sunday evening, the series continues with Sam Glaser and Julie Silver, both figures on the contemporary Jewish music scene.


Sam Glaser, Julie Silver, performing at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Stuart Raffel Performing Arts Plaza of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Tickets are $25; 582-4450.


ACADEMY NOTES:It has been a big week for the Music Academy of the West, the compact but intense summer festival in Santa Barbara and the best thing going for classical music lovers in the area. In particular, the two concerts in the past week have neatly epitomized the notion of making serious music enjoyable, creating a summer fair underscored by fierce intelligence.

On July 24, celebrated British conductor Jeffrey Tate came to town for the eighth consecutive year, leading the ever-fine student orchestra in a program of French treats. Old favorites from Ravel--the "Mother Goose Suite" and "Pavane for a Dead Princess"--floated off the stage in waves of lovely, nicely rendered sonority.

Spikier stuff, mixed with impressionistic sound painting, marks Debussy's too-rarely-heard "Jeux," premiered right around the time of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and, at certain points, bearing some resemblance. And Roussel's Symphony No. 3 is a head-scratching oddity, trapped between the 19th and 20th centuries, now bombastic, now urbane.

On Tuesday night, the series of chamber music concerts known as "Tuesdays at Eight" spotlighted one of its most rousing, and offbeat, programs. It began calmly enough, with Telemann, but took a sharp left turn into new music high jinks with Tom Johnson's wonderfully quirky "Failing: A very difficult piece for solo string bass." In this conceptual piece, the performer, here being the formidable Nico Abondolo, is asked to draw on more than two sides of the brain by reciting a text in an even, declarative cadence, while also playing a bass part of varying difficulty. The goal: to get the performer to fail. It was, at once, wild and dry-witted comic relief.

What better way to close a chamber series than with Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale"? This classic, written during World War I in Switzerland for a versatile seven-piece ensemble, takes its somewhat cheesy Faustian tale and stirs in some of Stravinsky's most memorable musical nuggets. Elements of classical propriety, cabaret swagger and rustic folk music blend into the score, without skipping a syncopated beat.

Academy faculty member Jerome Lowenthal impressed and amused the audience by playing all the roles as well as the narrator, literally wearing different hats and juggling props. But the music itself was the thing, of course, from the chunky, folk-like violin double stops to the trumpet gymnastics and the final percussion solo, a deceptively breezy statement of 20th-century imagination.

Next up in the final passage of this year's academy schedule is the not-to-miss opera production of Handel's "Rodelinda" on Aug. 6, 7, and 8 at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara. Mark the calendar.

Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at

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