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CAMA, L.A. Philharmonic Take Us to Heart of Europe

The program will feature entirely Slavic works

The Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) will bring its 2008-09 International Series to a close, as has often been the case, with a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Granada. The guest conductor will be Hans Graf, and the guest soloist will be the pianist Kirill Gerstein.

The entirely Slavic program for this concert consists of the Concerto for Orchestra (1940) by the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967); the Concerto No. 2 in A Major for Piano and Orchestra by the equally Hungarian Franz Liszt (1811–1886), and the Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Opus 88 by the Czech master, Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904).

At first glance, the ethnic concentration of this program is a little puzzling. If it is commemorating something, or making some kind of statement, I have no idea what that might be. Certainly, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has never been notably connected with composers from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. From its founding, the music directors have been, in order, an Englishman, a Finn, a Dalmatian from Split, a German from Silesia (Prussian), an American from Chicago, a Dutchman, a Parsi from Bombay, an Italian, a Berlin-born American, another Finn (!), and, as of Sept. 21 this year, a Venezuelan — not a Hungarian or Czech in the lot.

Maestro Graf, who doubtless drew the schedule up, was born in Marchtrenk, near Linz, in Austria, of German parents. Graf concluded a major part of his studies at the Leningrad Conservatory. Then he came back to Hapsburg lands, where he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera in 1981. Since 2001, he has been music director of the Houston Symphony. The most likely explanation for the program is that these composers, who all came from within a couple hundred miles of where Graf was born, are all composers he admires.

For most music lovers, the discovery of the evening will be the Kodály Concerto for Orchestra.

It was commissioned in 1939 by the Chicago Philharmonic Society, for the celebration of its diamond jubilee. Completed in 1940, the score was brought to America for its premiere performance (Feb. 6, 1941) by Kodály’s friend Béla Bartók. These were dark days in the world, as dark in Central Europe as anywhere, yet the Concerto will remind you more of Respighi’s Feste Romana than Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony. It is all sunlight and dancing and is perfectly lovely.

For years, we thought Dvorák wrote five symphonies, then it turned out he wrote nine. This would not have mattered, I suppose, if the only one worth listening to were the last, the “New World.” But, as sometimes happens, all nine are masterpieces, tuneful, soulful, exciting, thrilling, and uplifting. The Seventh and/or the Eighth are sometimes promoted as being “better than the Ninth.” They aren’t, but as you will hear, they are just as good.

Tickets for the Los Angeles Philharmonic are available from the Granada box office at 1214 State St., which can be reached by phone at 805.899.2222 or online at www.granadasb.org

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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