A night on the town in Lansdale, a blue-collar borough of 17,000 people, hasn't the widest range of options, but 60 or so more were just added - conveniently located between the hardware and health-food stores.

The Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts, converted from the Montgomery County town's longtime Masonic Temple, began its first full season on Friday with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Is the 28 miles between Lansdale and the orchestra's Kimmel Center home base too far?

"A lot of people in Lansdale have never been to Philadelphia. They like the town. They like to be here," said Marja Kaisla, executive director of the performing arts center and a fixture on the Philadelphia music scene. "And when you go a 10-mile radius from where the center physically is, you're looking at 125,000 people." (Also, contrary to a recent episode of the sci-fi TV series Fringe that was set in Lansdale, the nearby ditches and cornfields don't eat people.)

Only the center's first phase is ready for the public - a 240-seat chamber music hall designed with a distinctively wavy ceiling for acoustical purposes. An art gallery doubles as a reception room. An education room hosts workshops and master classes. The more-ambitious Phase 2 for a second hall twice as large as the present one has a fund-raising goal of $7 million - extremely modest by bigger-city standards.

Hopes of economic revitalization lie behind much of this endeavor - though Lansdale hardly appears to be in distress, with its quaint small-town-America main street, congenial restaurants (one is Thai/French), and SEPTA train stop only a few minutes' walk from the Lansdale Center.

For the Chamber Orchestra, the project represents outreach, with special, chamber-sized programs fashioned specifically for Lansdale. "They reached out to us," said the orchestra's executive director, Peter H. Gistelinck. "I see it as our duty. And this is just the beginning."

The center's main focus is hardly high art. Only eight of the season's 60 events are classical, four from the Chamber Orchestra and others by the Dali Quartet and Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra. Other presentations use the center like a cabaret or club, sometimes targeting the area's Asian and Hispanic populations with concerts as well as workshops directed at local musicians.

Clearly, the center is getting lots of mileage out of its $400,000-plus operating budget this season. Each month has a theme, from "War and Peace" to "Dance With Me" to "Hot and Passionate" - an idea that came specifically from Kaisla, 46, a native of Finland who came to Philadelphia to study piano with Susan Starr and also ran the Delaware Valley Music store. Organizing principles were needed, she said, for a community not used to a plethora of such diverse events.

"It's better for cross-promotion," Kaisla said. "There's a great danger that so many performances in eight different media could become a chaotic collection of offerings. . . . ranging from classical to film to family programming. How could I unify them?"

The "Out of This World" month, October, includes the sci-fi film Contact, the pop/jazz quartet Blue Jupiter, and psychic Joshua Kane.

The alternative universe represented by the Chamber Orchestra's Friday program was Mozart's - and not the typical symphonies. Friday's version of Chamber Orchestra consisted of nine winds playing modest, rarely heard Mozart, such as Twelve Duos for Two Horns (K. 487) and Serenade in C minor (K. 388), plus Beethoven's Variations on a Theme of Mozart for Two Oboes and English Horn.

Though not the sexiest program, it was played at a high level, higher than what's often heard in the Philadelphia Orchestra's hastily prepared chamber concerts. The Lansdale audience, which nearly filled the house, was receptive and attentive.

Later in the season, Chamber Orchestra's four-concert season includes music director Ignat Solzhenitsyn playing a solo piano recital on Feb. 12. The next Chamber Orchestra event - part of the month titled "One (Wo)Man Show" and including an Oct. 24 concert by pop star John Oates - is a solo recital on Oct. 23 by orchestra concertmistress Gloria Justen, who is also a composer and considered one of Philadelphia more adventurous, forward-looking musicians.

Is Lansdale ready for her? "I think that Gloria is ready for them," Gistelinck said. "She knows what to expect. She knows how to explain it. She'll talk about the music, not just put it out there."

Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts

311 W. Main St., Lansdale

215-361-1296

www.lansdalecpa.org

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