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Marching Orders: Cherry Duke plays Jo March in the opera of 'Little Women.'

Novel Ideas

Showcasing innovations like modern opera 'Little Women' is a Cabrillo Music Festival tradition

By Rebecca Patt

JUST WHEN you start to fret that orchestral music has gone to the dogs--or at the very least to the stuffy legacy of wig-wearing dead guys--along comes the 40th anniversary Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Led by world-renowned conductor Marin Alsop, the event is one of the few summer festivals in the country dedicated to performing contemporary orchestral music. Starting July 29 with open rehearsals and running through Aug. 11, some 100 musicians will converge upon Santa Cruz to perform the work of seven of today's hottest composers--five of whom will be present and participating.

Six of the works will be West Coast premieres, beginning with three performances of the opera Little Women (Aug. 2-3 at 8pm and Aug. 4 at 2pm), based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott with music and libretto by Mark Adamo. The thirtysomething Adamo has scored a huge success with his first opera. Since the show's commission by the Houston Grand Opera, it has spread to opera stages around the country and been broadcast on both NPR and PBS. Little Women is a genuine rarity: a modern opera that can compete with the warhorses. In the July 22 issue of The New Yorker, esteemed critic Alex Ross, while expressing some doubts about Adamo's schematic approach to combining stylistic elements, commends the composer for his excellent melodic hooks and his ability to make "fascinating music from the simplest possible material."

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Christopher Rouse will appear at the festival for the fifth time, and Alsop has programmed an All About Rouse evening (Aug. 4 at 8pm) that showcases four of his works. Among them is the West Coast premiere of Kabir Podavali, Rouse's tribute to the legendary Indian poet Kabir, featuring a 40-minute solo in Sanskrit by soprano Valdine Anderson.

Other highlights are appearances by the Kronos Quartet and Evelyn Glennie. Kronos, known as one of the most innovative classical ensembles in the world, will appear Aug. 7, 8pm, performing music from its new CD, Nuevo. Scottish-born percussionist Glennie will be making her festival debut on Aug. 10, 8pm. Glennie, who plays the marimbas barefoot, is considered a phenomenon--she is not only the world's most successful solo orchestral percussionist, but she hasn't let the fact that she is hearing-impaired get in the way of her career.

The festival ends Aug. 11, 4 and 8pm, at the Old Mission at San Juan Bautista (familiar to fans of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo), with a program of works by composers Thea Musgrave, Michael Daugherty and John Corigliano performed by Glennie and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra. Of special note is Musgrave's Journey Through a Japanese Landscape, which is based on a series of haikus and scored for marimbas, an example of the kind of thoughtful experimentation that gets lost sight of during the other seasons of the year when orchestras are concentrating on Tchaikovsky and the usual suspects.

The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music runs July 29-Aug. 11 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and Mission San Juan Bautista. Tickets are $15-$24, with student discounts and some free events available. For a complete schedule check www.cabrillomusic.org. (831.420.5260)

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From the July 25-31, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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