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Classical Pick: Bipolar Opposites

The theme of this year's Southwest Chamber Music season is "Musical Color and Imagination" — and it certainly does take imagination to seat J.S. Bach and John Cage next to each other at the musical dinner table. This week's concert is a study in contrasts: two Brandenburg Concerti and Cage's other-weirdly Atlas Eclipticalis. The former, of course, are the apex of classical ear candy — anybody who doesn't love the Brandenburgs is probably either deaf or dead. On the other hand, those who love Atlas Eclipticalis are probably so open-minded their brains are in danger of falling out. Cage used the Atlas Eclipticalis 1950.0, an atlas of the stars published in 1958 by Czech astronomer Antoni­n Becvar, superimposing musical staves over the star charts and correlating the size of the notes with the size of the stars. The piece can be performed by any entity, from a single soloist to a small chamber ensemble to a full orchestra. What does it sound like? A New York Times critic bluntly termed it "utterly, inconsequentially boring." There are, after all, long periods of silence, which the listener can fill in however he/she likes. I, however, find it eerie, gorgeous, outrageous — Cage daring us to take the music and run with it ourselves. But then, I liked Andy Warhol's film homage to the Empire State Building, so don't go by me. Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; Sat., Feb. 23, 8 p.m. Also at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, 200 S. Grand Ave., dwtwn.; Mon., Feb. 25, 8 p.m.; preconcert talks, 7:30 p.m.; $38, $28 seniors, $10 students. (800) 726-7147 or www.swmusic.org.