Celestial Music at Mt. Wilson

 By Bill Peters
Arcadia Weekly, Monrovia Weekly, Sierra Madre Weekly
June 22-28, 2000

     The Mount Wilson Institute, operations arm of the famed Mount Wilson observatories about our communities, sponsored a delightful, free - and very informal concert at the Mount Wilson astronomical Museum last Sunday afternoon.  The Institute invited the Sierra Chamber Players and guest artist Nick Ariondo, composer/accordionist, to perform music with a celestial twist.   The high ceiling of the museum at first delayed the sound of the strings, but miraculously the warmth of the celli played by Janice Foy and Lynn Angebranndt, clarity of violinists Leola Wagner and Irina Voloshina, and the depth of tone of violists Gina Dorman and Shawn Mann, completely enveloped the auditorium in clean and sparkling tones.

     Beginning with Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" at a decidedly upbeat tempo, the ensemble settled into a well-paced rendering.  Accordionist Ariondo premiered an interesting piece, "Tango Indo-Serene," that he wrote for local musician and California Philharmonic Orchestra member and soloist Ayke Agus.  The Sierra Chamber Players were playfully responsive to Ariondo's playing.  The informality of both the location and the afternoon allowed Ariondo to comment on a noise made by an audience member just as the piece ended.  "That percussive sound (at the end of the piece) gave me an idea," Ariondo commented, to the laughter of the well-attended concert.

     A "Gypsy Fantasy," subtitled "Duo for Two Stars," gave accordionist Ariondo his best solo opportunity of the afternoon.  He was joined by Sierra Chamber Players' founder, cellist Janice Foy and the two played masterfully.  Technically, Ariondo displays an unusual perfection.  His keyboard work is clean and clear.  The buttons fly and produce the most amazing sounds as he extends and compresses the bellows in an amazingly even manner, even with long, soft notes.  His composition is very direct, moving from forest sounds to passionate gypsy dance.  Foy exhibited excellent tone in her cello, playing even in the difficult upper register notes.

     The major work of the afternoon concert was a premiere performance of an arrangement by Shelly Cohen of Gustav Holst's "the Planets", four of the movements for orchestra, reduced here to six strings and accordion. The accordion is used in the Cohen arrangement mostly to provide a stronger, fuller sound.  The strings, though, bring the power, flavor and intrigue of the piece well along.  Cohen serves as an arranger with the Sierra Chamber Players.  His music background includes a 30-year stint as assistant musical director for the "Tonight Show."  The concert concluded with "Verklaerte Nacht (Transfigured Night), apparently Arnold Schoenberg's first acknowledged composition, written in 1899 when he was 25 years old.

     The concert served as a reminder that a mere nine miles about our communities - by dirt-path hike - and no more than 35 miles by Angeles Crest Highway, is a major laboratory seeking answers about the stars, including our own sun.  Research continues 24 hours a day, according to Mount Wilson Observatory docent Don Nicholson, who led a 90-minute tour following the program.


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