Where are all the great conductors this summer? Not at Hollywood Bowl.
This may not be the worst of times, but it certainly isn't the best--unless one looks to Cahuenga Pass for a festival of mediocrity.
Before the season reaches its merciful finale, with fireworks, on Sept. 13, Los Angeles will witness a long parade of undoubted hacks and possible routiniers . The biggest names on the agenda belong to Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta, and some iconoclasts refuse to place even these two among the highest ranks of the international elite.
It is sobering.
Tuesday night the podium at our gargantuan brouhaha amphitheater belonged, for the first time, to Paavo Berglund. Last January the left-handed maestro from Finland had made a rather undistinguished Music Center debut, salvaged, to a degree, by some presumably authentic Sibelius. An alfresco return engagement was his immediate reward.
Although a modest crowd numbering 6,821 stayed surprisingly dry throughout his concert, Berglund kept the music frustratingly damp.
For starters, there was Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel," in a cautious, imprecise, lumbering performance. For the presumed piece de resistance, after intermission, there was the Sibelius Second Symphony in a performance that balanced the deft with the clumsy, the suave with the sloppy, the noble with the pedestrian. One savored some nice moments, but passionate expression proved as elusive as consistency of execution.
The redoubtable soloist of the evening was Horacio Gutierrez, returning to Los Angeles after a dismaying series of illnesses and cancellations. He played the Prokofiev Second with his customary verve, power, breadth and, where possible, poetry. At least one was convinced that he wanted to play the concerto that way.
The conditions, unfortunately, were not conducive for triumph. His Steinway sounded dull and tubby over the overamplification system, and Berglund provided accompaniment that reinforced neither the pianist's flights of mercurial temperament nor his subtle dynamic accents. Whenever Gutierrez tried to light a fire, Berglund steadfastly tried to put it out.
This musical marriage was not made in heaven.