By the time a musical organization embarks on its 52nd season--which was the case Thursday for the Long Beach Symphony--common wisdom might normally suggest a philosophic ease about such matters as financial security and staying power.
But there were lots of telltale signs to the contrary when Murry Sidlin presided over his altogether sterling orchestra at the Terrace Theater:
A huge placard announced that the performance had been sponsored by D.D. Dunlap Companies--indicating that a mere five concerts required major charity and a rescuing angel. Furthermore, a fact sheet identified these events as "the Classics season," not to be confused with a trio of pops extravaganzas hyped by a brochure.
Could it be that culture is hard to swallow in Long Beach? Or that the price is inordinately high?
One would never suspect so. The house, while not full, was attended in respectable numbers. The audience, ostensibly appreciative of the engaging performances Sidlin & Co. turned in, did not seem at the brink of abandonment.
The music director saw to that. Even without a soloist (deliberately excluded for austerity reasons), he devised an appealing program--one that conveyed a grandiose sense of occasion but did not fall into a top-40 category.
True, there was a single hackneyed item, Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." But the surrounding fare consisted of Samuel Barber's First Symphony and Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony--not the stuff of switched-on-classics.
A complaint could conceivably be lodged, however, with one of Sidlin's choices. Instead of Ravel's chastely clarified orchestration of "Pictures," he opted for the anachronistic one by Stokowski. By contrast, it has all the Disneyfied musical geegaws to sound candy-coated. Too bad. And a surprising lapse of taste on the conductor's part.
Nevertheless, Sidlin delivered the piece with conviction--especially when he arrived at the sock-it-to-'em finale. The orchestra had its finest moments elsewhere, however.
The Barber is a work with immense appeal. Rarely heard, it constitutes a veering off the beaten repertory path. Easy listening, it does not tax ears that are used to conventional harmonies. As a bonus, it is full of melodrama--the kind that suggests '50s film noir with its dark mysteries, muscular tension and lyric outpourings.
A great score? Certainly not. But just the ticket for getting off the war-horse train and persuading folks that there's more to music than humming along. In the bargain, it is quite a showpiece for the orchestra, which played with all-out vigor, body and beauty of tone.
Here, Sidlin's tendency to stretch out phrases sometimes impeded an already tenuous structure. But there were no such problems with the Mendelssohn, thanks to its Romantic formalism. For this concluding work the conductor asserted much authority and an uncommon interpretive flair.