Eager, highly accomplished musicians--the kind found each summer in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra--have a lot to give and a lot to gain.
Much depends on the artistic director. Will he lead his charges down a path of repertory adventure and discovery? Will he open new vistas of musical perception for them even in works tried and true (may we say overexposed)?
For the past several years Michael Tilson Thomas has been that person, affirming all the above and then some. Saturday night, his successor, Sir Charles Groves, presided at Hollywood Bowl over the debut of this summer's youthful forces--in tandem with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
The concert was, most emphatically, a letdown. Not just because on this single evening Sir Charles doled out a nice, bland, tea-and-crumpets routine, but because such talented recruits as those before him deserve something more inspired and inspiring. Unlike the Philharmonic regulars who simply bide time until the next significant conductor stands before them, this is it for the summer sojourners.
There could be no quibble with the sound produced. The ensemble playing was remarkable: alert, vital and nuanced. And if it really is necessary to program so many under-the-stars staples--Barber's Adagio for Strings, Respighi's "The Pines of Rome" and Brahms' First Symphony--at least these were workable for what could be an unwieldly size orchestra.
For that matter, Sir Charles was no slouch when it came to following dynamic markings or instilling refinement or serving the lyric impulse--which he did admirably throughout the evening.
But whenever philosophic breadth was at question or deep turmoil called, he simply plodded squarely along. One does not have to remember the revelatory Giulini Brahms' First to expect sharply colliding cross rhythms in the opening Allegro or a suspended tension preceding the great chorale.
Surely it's possible, however, to project some undercurrents of urgency, some attempt to tie one grand Brahmsian statement to the next.
The same absence of temperament and inability to sustain the line afflicted Sir Charles' other efforts. In the overture to Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" there was plenty of sweetly arching lyricism--but it might have been culled from Gilbert and Sullivan, not the manic Frenchman whose orchestral glitter swirls with agitation.
Meanwhile, the Respighi could (and did) get by, as the crowd of 7,519 attested, thanks to its built-in pictorial structure.