If the world of music were ruled by justice and logic, Daniel Lewis would be one of the world's busiest conductors.
But the world of music is fickle and irrational. It is glamour-oriented, business-oriented, hype-oriented. (Check out the vulgar banner that now defaces the facade of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)
Seemingly unaffected by the crass wheelings and dealings of the real world, Lewis has played by his own rules and followed his own priorities. The result, for the most part, has been academia's gain and the public's loss.
Lewis has been perfectly content, he insists, to concentrate on student orchestras and low-pressure professional ensembles. He likes to stay put, to polish, to make things grow. The dizzy races, he says, are not for him.
Once in a while, however, he does get noticed by the big-time impresarios. Once in a while, our symphonic establishment deems it worthwhile to take advantage of a major local talent rather than import a minor mediocrity from afar.
Thursday night, after an inexplicable absence of 10 years, Lewis returned to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was a happy occasion.
Lewis is not the sort of artist who savors obvious ego indulgences. It is significant, no doubt, that he chose a program that offered scant opportunity for interpretive display. The stress, instead, was on lucid, refined, straightforward music making.
Walter Piston's Symphony No. 4, which opened the concert, was last heard here in 1982, courtesy of Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony. Los Angeles had first heard it in 1954 when it was four years old, thanks to Alfred Wallenstein and our own orchestra.
It remains an elegant example of neo-romantic craft. Although unabashedly melodic and nearly lush in its harmonies, it brims with contrapuntal invention and percussive energy. Contemporary ears may find it a bit slick, perhaps a bit too predictable. Still, Piston's unflagging mastery of the daunting old forms and formulas gains eloquence with the passage of time.
Lewis presided over a performance that supported drama and clarity in equal measure.
The soloist of the evening turned out to be the same pianist who had shared the stage with Lewis in March 1976, when he last led the Philharmonic at the Music Center. Alicia de Larrocha played the Chopin Second Concerto then. This time, her war horse was the Schumann Concerto.
She played it with abiding savoir-faire, with restraint, with fluency and an unerring sense of proportion. Lewis and the orchestra provided alert and sensitive support. There have been far more exciting, more inspired, more personal performances in the past, but one still could admire the calm civility of this one.
After intermission, the maestro-pro-tem turned to the civility of Bizet's Symphony in C. The music seems a little bland these days when presented bereft of Balanchine. Nevertheless, it exerts its own charms when imbued with the degrees of delicacy, transparency, speed and crispness favored by Lewis and his responsive charges.