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Specter of Dragon Looms Over Choice of New Conductor

March 21, 1985|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

For the second time in a year, the Glendale Symphony Orchestra is looking for a new conductor.

The first search was prompted by the death of Carmen Dragon, its conductor for 20 years. The second has been triggered by the resignation, after only one season, of Dragon's replacement, Daniel Lewis, amid what some orchestra members said was Lewis' disagreements with the symphony's executive board over the choice of music.

Lewis' departure highlights an identity problem for the symphony, according to several musicians and board members: Should it stay with Dragon's format of familiar classics and audience-pleasing Pops or push into more modern--some say challenging--and more serious classics?

Friction Denied

John A. Grande, president of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra Assn., "unequivocally" denied that the resignation announced last week was prompted by any friction over the repertory.

"That is just a perception," Grande said. "And I think it's a perception of those who may not be on the board or do not attend the meetings regularly." In fact, he said, although Lewis' contract had been for just one year, the board had hoped "this wasn't going to be a short-term thing."

In a statement released by the symphony association, Lewis was quoted as saying that he was leaving at the end of this season to devote more time to his work as chairman of the conducting studies department at the University of Southern California and to his guest-conducting engagements. After 11 years as conductor of the Pasadena Symphony, Lewis resigned in 1983, bitterly criticizing the Pasadena board for financial ineptitude and unsophisticated musical taste.

Lewis, 59, was reported to be out of town this week and could not be reached for further comment on his resignation from the Glendale position.

Comments on Future

His move, however, has prompted much discussion about the future of the symphony which, although it performs at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, is widely considered Glendale's most important cultural and social organization. Its 21-member executive board and large support organization is peppered with people well-connected to Glendale's wealthy business community.

The comments by board members, musicians and subscribers vary widely, but one theme recurs: that Dragon and the Glendale Symphony were so well-matched that it may be very difficult to find a similar, long-term marriage. People still speak of Dragon's death last March with shock, because his struggle against cancer was apparently kept a secret from most of his professional associates.

One high-ranking member of the orchestra, who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified, said he regretted Lewis' resignation but was not surprised by it.

"I think he is a little too snobbish for our audience," the member said. "Carmen Dragon was perfect for Glendale, probably for all American audiences. Some light stuff and some heavy stuff, quite a good mixture."

A Different Direction

Another musician, Sheridon Stokes, the symphony's first-chair flutist, said, "While Dan Lewis is certainly a fine conductor, I think the board had a different direction in mind for the orchestra, maybe not as classically oriented as he wanted."

The majority of the executive board of the symphony wants to find another long-term relationship with a conductor, according to member Robert Kadz, and to keep the same basic Dragon flavor to the repertory. Dragon once said that he liked to have about 70% of the symphony's music to be recognizable to the audience.

"And then every now and then I throw in a far-out piece," Dragon said in 1983. "But the far-out piece, if it is contemporary, requires more rehearsals, and then you are taking a chance on whether it is going to be appreciated by your ticket-holder. So we make it short and sweet--middle of the road."

The current season includes four nights of classics, two nights of Christmas music and an evening of movie music, guest-conducted by John Green, which was the only sold-out event so far this year. Lewis is scheduled to lead the two remaining classical concerts.

Incident Over Anthem

Although Kadz denied there had been any arguments over music, he said of Lewis: "He wanted to go in a certain direction that wasn't going to take us where we want to go."

Many people outside the board speculate that the relationship between the board and Lewis may have gotten off on a bad footing last fall, when Lewis said he did not think it was fitting to start each concert with the "Star Spangled Banner" and that he did not want to conduct it. He did conduct it at the first concert, but, in a compromise with the board, his assistant conducted it at the following concerts, board members and musicians said.

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