Free Classical Music on the Westside

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Los Angeles is home to some truly world-class soloists and ensembles, beginning with the LA Philharmonic and LA Chamber Orchestra, but tickets can seem expensive, times and locations difficult for families including children or seniors, and concert etiquette intimidating for newcomers. Don’t let that keep you from adding some classical music to your life. There are many free and accessible performances close by.

First, there are several part-time professional orchestras, drawn from the many excellent freelancers in the area:

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (kco.la) emulates New York’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which is famous for playing cooperatively without a conductor. Kaleidoscope includes contemporary music on every program and plays regularly in Santa Monica. Their concerts are “pay what you want.”

The West Los Angeles Symphony (wlasymphony.com) performs only one concert a year, free of charge, at UCLA.

Regular season shows by our own Culver City Symphony are not free, but in the summer they become the Marina del Rey Symphony and play free pops concerts in Burton Chase Park (culvercitysymphony.org/marina-concerts-2018.html).

Second, there are community orchestras, which are mostly or all volunteer players. These can also be high-quality groups since the volunteers include music teachers, retired pros, and the author of this column, as well as successful musicians in other styles who enjoy playing classical music. The bass section of the Palisades Symphony (palisadessymphony.org), for example, includes a film composer, a first-call jazz and R&B sideman, and the bass player from Brian Setzer’s band.

The Santa Monica Symphony (smsymphony.org) performs five concerts a year, all free admission. Most are at Santa Monica High School, which is very close to the Expo line. The conductor, Guido Lamell, is a member of the LA Philharmonic, and his Philharmonic colleagues will appear as guest soloists.

The Los Angeles Doctors Symphony (ladso.org) spreads its season over several venues, including Culver City’s Veterans’ Auditorium. Their shows are usually in the afternoon; all are free.

Third, our nearby colleges offer opportunities to hear the stars of tomorrow. UCLA (schoolofmusic.ucla.edu), USC (music.usc.edu), and the Colburn School (colburnschool.edu/calendar) present numerous student and faculty performances. Most are free, and besides classical music, all three have jazz combos and big bands. USC also has a popular music program and UCLA has ethnomusicology ensembles, in which master musicians from around the world teach students to perform their traditional styles. Some Santa Monica College music department events are free; check under “Life@SMC” then “The Arts” and “Music, Dance, & Theater” at smc.edu. USC is right on the Expo line, Colburn a few blocks from it, and UCLA and SMC accessible by bus.

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