Outdoor festivities are the middle name of Hollywood Bowl, where a 65th summer season officially began Tuesday night with predictable picnicking, post-prandial drinking and the release of multicolored balloons.
With a substitute conductor on the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a fragmented first- half of a program and a thoroughly uneventful performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony at its conclusion, however, the launching festivities were muted.
Jan Latham-Koenig, the young British conductor stepping in on a week's notice for the indisposed Lawrence Foster, certainly deputized most competently. It wasn't his fault that the pre-intermission part of the program offered five brief and disconnected pieces written in, respectively, 1980, 1981, 1730, 1777 and 1781.
But it was his responsibility that Beethoven's familiar Fifth sounded routine and dispassionate. As played carefully by our Philharmonic, this unperturbed runthrough had neatness in its favor. All it lacked was a sense of inevitability--but that lack kept it earthbound.
Jean-Pierre Rampal, a frequent visitor to the outdoor amphitheater in the past two decades, was the largely uninvolved soloist in Leonard Bernstein's "Halil," for flute, strings and percussion; in Vivaldi's Concerto in D, "Il Gardellino," and in two pieces by Mozart, the Andante in C and Rondo in D. The French musician has shown greater enthusiasm and brilliance at other appearances. On Tuesday, he waited until the Rondo, closing his solo set, before becoming genuinely attentive to his duties.
The quarter-hour Bernstein work seemed to deserve Rampal's low-energy approach. It wanders aimlessly, and mostly tunelessly, through its length, substituting a soupy and unfocused lyricism for any real feeling of direction or motion.
Rampal did not rescue it from its own sentimental anonymity.
At the beginning of the concert, a genuine novelty added spice at the very place where a strong overture was needed. It was the West Coast premiere of Andre Previn's six-year old "Principals," created for the Pittsburgh Symphony during Previn's tenure there.
A handsome and pungent work, "Principals" offers bright, dramatic solo lines for several players of the orchestra and does so in a context of tight musical motivation and an eclectic contemporary idiom. Latham-Koenig, proving himself a thoroughgoing quick study, brought out the many contrasts, relieved tensions and complex inner workings of the piece. Among the important featured players on this occasion were concertmaster Sidney Weiss, violist Dale Hikawa and cellist Ronald Leonard. Leading a happy onslaught of horns and trumpets--in Straussian fanfares--late in the piece were William Lane and Donald Green.