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Silents, Please

Cabrillo Music Fest makes sweet sounds inspired by silver screen

By Philip Collins

NEVER HAS the spirit of play at Cabrillo Music Festival been so infectious and rampant as it is this year. The first weekend's five concerts, running Thursday through Sunday at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, included screenings of side-splitting comedies with live orchestral accompaniments, concert works of purely mischievous ambitions, and a block-long street fair on Church Street.

There were a few serious encounters also--Philip Glass' Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, for four soloists, chorus and orchestra, in particular. Joan Tower's Concerto for Orchestra was hellbent and seriously difficult, but not always with a straight face.

At a chamber music recital Saturday afternoon a timpani etude by the late George Barati (performed by Charles Dowd) registered poignantly as a memorial to this talented local composer's passing in June.

Rumors that Einhorn's Voices of Light is merely another exercise in minimalist rhetoric proved excessive. Although his musical style certainly owes allegiance to the minimalist school, Voices of Light builds upon a breadth of compositional techniques stretching from medieval times to the present. Einhorn's score supports and propels Dreyer's film with utmost sensitivity. The film's jagged camera maneuvers and repetitive sequences are negotiated by the music's smooth, lyric gestures. Einhorn's score metes out intensity gradually, mirroring the film's dramatic build without getting tangled up in details of literal synchronization.

The soloists--Stephanie Johnson, soprano; Karen Clark, alto; Linus Eukel, tenor; and Clifton Romig, bass--were well suited for the assignment. Their tender, unpressed vocal styles complemented the project's liturgical tenor.

Thursday's pre-series Gala concert was a real zinger. How beguiling to take in Chaplin's City Lights with the comedian's original score. Moreover, it was an absolute howl. Chaplin's adroit integration of the mediums blossomed under Marin Alsop's baton and the orchestra's limber assist. What a shoo-in. While Chaplin's antics would be hilarious with even a chainsaw for a sound track, his score enhanced matters immeasurably.

Three works were performed Friday evening: Glass' Concerto for Violin, Tower's Concerto for Orchestra, and Honegger's Pacific 231, complete with a film showing about trains. Tower's concerto gave the evening its steam. A riotous workout for everyone, Alsop included, Tower's piece demonstrates her penchant for cross metric rhythms and melodic layerings. The score moved between orchestral episodes and solos at blurring dispatch, unpredictable and dazzling as fireworks. Standouts included cameos by principal horn player Kristin Jurkscheit, tubaist Forrest Byram and the percussion section en masse.

Concertmaster Kay Stern's performance as soloist in the Glass concerto was more appreciable than the music at hand. Stern's beauteous tone enlivened Glass' forgettable melodies, and her pinpointed intonation paid off especially well in the higher tessituras. Although the work features some of Glass' most moving orchestral music, that really isn't saying much--there is precious little to choose from.

Saturday afternoon's chamber concert--a last-minute addition--offered a welcome respite of intimacy as well as a concentrated dose of interesting music. Festival Orchestra woodwind and brass players, along with five percussionists, offered attractive readings of music by Tower, Druckman, Dondero, Ligeti, Rouse and, as mentioned above, Barati.

Four of Ligeti's Six Bagatelles for Woodwind Quintet were especially appealing. The score's facile interplays of melody and timbre in this early opus revealed an unusually accessible side to the Hungarian modernist. To the contrary, Christopher Rouse supplied the quota of eccentricity that we've come to expect from this New York composer during the past two seasons with his Ogoun Badagris, an aggressive percussion quintet of funky voodoo energy.

The weekend wound up wholesomely with a free family concert on Sunday afternoon. New Jersey composer David Rimelis was on hand to narrate his Phil Harmonic and His Fabulous Orchestra, a musical story that deals playfully with the modern-day dilemma concerning acoustic versus synthesized music. Rimelis' abilities as a composer were put to more effective means in his score accompanying Mack Sennett's 1915 silent short, Love, Speed and Thrills.

Cabrillo Music Festival picks up again Friday with performances by Alsop's swing band, String Fever, and then concludes Sunday with afternoon and evening performances of Górecki's Symphony No. 3 and MacMillan's percussion Veni, Veni, Emmanuel concerto at Mission San Juan Bautista.

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro

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