For a few hours last Saturday morning and early afternoon, the center of Los
Angeles’ musical life shifted northward from its usual downtown location to
some dusty, sunbaked real estate in the Santa Clarita Valley. The occasion was
“A Day in the Old West,”organized by the indefatigable MaryAnn Bonino as an
event in her “Chamber Music in Historic Sites” series.
The sites were nothing if not historic. In the morning the splendid local
group, the Santa Clarita Chamber Players, performed in the ancient (1887)
Saugus train station (moved from its original location but handsomely
restored). In the afternoon there was an old-fashioned outdoor brass concert in
the vast (and unrestored) ruins of Melody Ranch, Gene Autry’s old stamping
ground, in Placerita Canyon.
In between, there were the opportunities to ramble through other local
landmarks, including the one-time estate of another Western movie star, William
S. Hart, which now stands as a museum at the center of Hart Park in Saugus.
Ticket-holders were also furnished with a box lunch.
If this sounds like a happy, folksy outing, that’s pretty much what it was. The
Chamber Players’ concert did, to be sure, have its challenging side, including
a handsome set of songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams on William Blake texts,
scored for soprano and oboe and nicely performed by Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh
and Alan Vogel. Works by Haydn, Friedemann Bach and Villa-Lobos made up the
rest of the rewarding program.
The afternoon program made up for all that seriousness, however. The occasion
was folksy as all get-out, with the Da Camera Brass Quintet struggling to
protect their sheet music against the stiff breezes (some colorful clothespins
helped) and struggling less happily against the demands in a set of perky
little nose-thumbing marches by Charles Ives and a few Scott Joplin rags. The
crowd seemed happy, however. If nothing else, the afternoon afforded the crowd
of 150-or-so the chance for a start on this season’s suntans.