The air is cool, the music is hot, and people all the way up to the $1 seats of the mammoth Hollywood Bowl are swaying to the seductive tango rhythms filling the night air.
Argentina's premier interpreter of its national pastime, Juan Jos Mosalini, is sharing the stage with Peruvian singer Susana Baca, an icon in her own country for bringing Peru's traditions to life.
The audience is enthusiastic, even when the bandleader gives up on English and switches to Spanish. More important for the Bowl, a Los Angeles institution in search of its audience, it's a big crowd, marking what management hopes is a turnaround in a decade-long steep decline in attendance. Concerts such as this one, "Tango & Romance" that celebrates Latin music, are part of a new direction for this old southern California establishment.
"We're moving toward new profiles in our schedule," says Willem Wijnbergen, the recently resigned managing director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, parent organization of the Bowl. "There are many untapped audiences in L.A," he adds. Like many musical organizations in major cities, the Bowl is realizing that appealing to a broader constituency is its only hope of survival.
The new World Music Sunday night lineup and the Wednesday night jazz series are two new efforts to target the uninitiated.
The World Music lineup encompasses a healthy potpourri of musical traditions - "African Pulse," with dancers; the Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre; Flaco Jimenez, a Tex-Mex performer; Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani singer; and "Gypsy Passion," featuring whirling dancers from Rajasthan, and Flamenco dancers from Spain, to name a few.
Local radio host Tom Schnabel, program director of World Music for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, has been at the forefront of bringing international musicians to mainstream formats for more than two decades.
"Everyone thinks they know classical music," he says. "But they don't know the so-called classical traditions of other countries," he explains.
"The Hollywood Bowl is the perfect place to learn about other traditions because people are open," says Mr. Schnabel. "They come and sit under the stars and they're much more relaxed than when they go downtown to a more formal setting," he adds.
Rather than go for individual acts, Schnabel has opted for a thematic approach. "We hope to bring people in for an evening of Brazilian sounds, or African sounds so they'll be open to other artists from that same tradition," he says.
Beyond the international sound, the Bowl hopes to expand interest in home-grown traditions as well, such as jazz.
John Clayton, a prominent band director with his own group, The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, as well as the Philharmonic's artistic director of Jazz, has a different approach to introducing new sounds. His own ensemble is installed in residence at the L.A. Philharmonic, which provides continuity for the audience and a solid platform for guest artists. The schedule includes such acts as Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Shirley Brown, and Dr. John.
As for whether these new directions will revive the ailing Bowl, officials say it's too soon to tell. Ticket sales are up and new people are coming to the familiar landmark at the edge of Hollywood.
Says one observer at the first weekend of Brazil nights, "There were people here who didn't know where the box office was, so clearly they'd never come before." As for the loyal Bowl subscriber, one longtime Sunday night ticket holder says, "It's unusual, but I think I like it. It just takes a little getting used to."
*The Hollywood Bowl runs through Oct. 2. For a complete schedule and tickets, log on to
www.hollywoodbowl.org or call 323-850-2000 to hear a recorded message.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society