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Jack Smith

At High School Night at the L.A. Philharmonic, a young audience gets rocked by Amadeus and more

March 17, 1986|Jack Smith

We went to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion the other evening for High School Night at the Music Center.

I wondered how teen-agers, whose behavior might have been conditioned by the unrestrained enthusiasm of audiences at rock concerts, would react to the relative decorum of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Andre Previn--for the maestro himself was conducting.

Our regular seats are in the balcony, which I prefer, because I can see the musicians better, and the sound comes up so well, but for this occasion we had received seats up front in the orchestra, for which we were to be grateful: When Previn came out to converse with the audience we were glad to be close up.

I was pleased to see that Barbara Durant was seated among the first violins. We had met Ms. Durant during our regular morning exercises at the Pasadena Athletic Club, and she had told us that the violin she played in the orchestra had belonged to that great virtuoso, Jack Benny.

First the orchestra played Berlioz's Overture to "Benvenuto Cellini." The overture reflected the collision of those two flamboyant personalities--Berlioz and Cellini--lush, wild, impetuous, vibrant and gloriously romantic. Surely this outpouring of erotic energy could be appreciated by any devotee of rock.

The applause was controlled and gratifying.

Previn followed the overture with a few charming and intimate observations on Berlioz, that tempestuous romantic, and on his subject, the amorous goldsmith. He also introduced Mozart's Concerto No. 2 in E flat for Horn and Orchestra, and the horn player, John Cerminaro.

Previn observed that Mozart was simply the greatest composer of all time, an encomium that seemed to relegate Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles to the level of Bach and Beethoven, and that the movie "Amadeus" was about as true to Mozart as Sylvester Stallone would be to Shakespeare.

Of course the Mozart horn concerto, with its lovely plangent sound and playful melody, would please the ear of anyone who hadn't been made stone deaf by the catastrophic loudness of rock, and Cerminaro was thoroughly applauded.

The third piece, Bartok's suite from the ballet, "The Miraculous Mandarin," surely served to disabuse the teen-agers of any generational illusion that Philharmonic music is "long-haired." Not even today's punk rock has more invention, daring, and anarchy than the mad Hungarian.

At intermission Previn announced that John Marshall and El Camino Real high schools had tied for having the largest attendance at the concert, and that, as a consequence, the Philharmonic would play at both schools.

These announcements were greeted with reassuring if chauvinistic screams and whistles.

We mingled with the audience in the lobby during intermission and I was delighted by the clothes the young people were wearing. The style seemed to be a refinement of punk. The boys wore baggy pants that closed in above the ankles and jackets that seemed either too small or too large. The effect, though, was one of style, not anti-style. After all, why should they look like me--wearing the same monkey suit that men have been wearing for 150 years?

The concert ended with Elgar's "Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma)." As Previn noted, it called to mind the elegance of a vanished Great Britain, and I doubted that it touched the teen-age heart as it did mine and Previn's. Since Suez and the Beatles, Great Britain has never been the same.

Previn had promised that after the Elgar he would come out with his necktie off, which I supposed was a metaphor, and answer questions from the audience.

He came out with his necktie off. His black jacket had been discarded for a casual gray cardigan. His mane of gray hair had either been rumpled by his exertions on the podium, or he had rumpled it. He took the podium and Cerminaro, the horn player, sat beside him on a chair.

Previn answered questions with charm, authority and wit.

What's the difference between a French horn and an English horn?

"Well, a French horn isn't really a French horn, and an English horn isn't really an English horn. . . ."

Why was the orchestra smaller for the Mozart concerto?

"For a concerto, it depends on when it was written. In the 18th Century the orchestra used to be a lot smaller."

Once the orchestra has rehearsed, wouldn't it play just as well if you stayed home?

"There are a great many moments when a conductor is not necessary--but not for the whole piece."

To learn to play an instrument well, when should a child begin?

Previn turned to Cerminaro: "To play the horn, you have to have all your teeth. I started when I was 10 years old, and I had most of my teeth."

How do you get to be a professional musician?

Cerminaro: "You work like hell. I practice every day. Long hours. I warm up every morning, then I come here and rehearse six hours. I like to practice a little in the evening, too."

How do you prepare for an audition?

Cerminaro: "When is your audition coming up?"


"What are you playing?"

Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Rossini.

"Ask some friends in. Play for them. Get used to the pressure. And then pray."

I think the high school students loved it. I hope so. Some of them have to be interested in classical music or the Philharmonic will become as extinct as the dinosaur.

One thing I liked especially about the concert was the realization that the spirit of Jack Benny was fiddling around in there somewhere.

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