He's back. And not a moment too soon.
Andre Previn made it to Hollywood Bowl on Sunday just in time to conduct the final concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra.
His presence on the podium was cause to cheer--for starters, it marked the first appearance by a Philharmonic music director presiding over the summer training orchestra.
More important, in an institute season that has not seen a powerful influence, Previn brought an overwhelming experience to the trainees, as well as an audience of 7,323.
The returning hero did what he does best, 20th-Century Russian music--in this case, Shostakovich's mighty Fifth Symphony. And practically nothing, not even an errant airplane, compromised his intent or achievement.
If one did not come to the scene with pre-knowledge, this might have been recognized as a major league orchestra rather than an ad-hoc assemblage of pre-professional players. So masterful a performance did Previn inspire, give or take a few tell-tale passages.
The violins shimmered lustrously in the softest of pianissimos, uttering what sounded like celestial resignation. Conversely, they muscled their way into the biting, martial allegros with unstoppable force and precision. Even the winds went bobble-free, this certainly a feat in the exposed challenges Shostakovich set for them.
But all this was less a matter of expert playing than a call to interpretive conviction.
True, the Shostakovich Fifth is a blockbuster. With its built-in drama, there's little expressive territory not covered. But crucially, the maestro knew how to anticipate its waxings and wanings, how to join phrases seamlessly where need be or let them erupt in cataclysmic explosions.
And this is what the institute orchestra has been waiting for all summer. Finally, a podium figure who could put real meaning into the catalogue of signals that are a conductor's stock in musical trade.
By contrast, the three conducting fellows who preceded Previn gave orderly, more than competent demonstrations of their craft--without ever making the leap to full-blown inspiration.
One can hardly compare, however, their small but lovely and well-chosen entries with the tumultuous rhetoric of Shostakovich. Nonetheless, Alasdair Neale drew a poised, sweetly turned account of Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" overture; Michael Stern offered Debussy's "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune" as a thing of apt languor and David Allan Miller made graphic the structure of Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Haydn.