EL CAJON — Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego is dark, and the San Diego Symphony Assn. has canceled its 1986-87 winter season, but orchestra members have been unwilling to relegate symphonic music to the radio. A cadre of 50 players has been giving an all-Mozart program at various churches and school auditoriums around the county, and other ensembles drawn from the orchestra have set up their stands at local shopping malls.
Now the full orchestra is ready to resume performing under its own aegis. Tuesday night, under the direction of former San Diego Symphony assistant conductor Matthew Garbutt, 75 members of the orchestra will play a concert of Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Wieniawski at the East County Performing Arts Center here. This program is the prelude to a projected series of 15 concerts the orchestra members will play in the El Cajon hall starting in mid-January.
Before the symphony association moved into Symphony Hall in 1985, the orchestra played a well-attended, regular Saturday night series at the East County center. The players recalled the enthusiasm of those audiences when they approached the center about setting up their series. Of course, besides the heavily booked Civic Theatre and Symphony Hall, there are few available halls suitable for symphonic performance in the county.
That the members of the orchestra committee turned to Garbutt to conduct this first concert was hardly surprising. They had worked for three summers, from 1983 to 1985, under Garbutt's direction while he was resident conductor of the San Diego Pops.
"Because of his rapport with the players, Garbutt can put a concert together very quickly," trumpeter Mark Bedell said. "We were used to putting a Pops concert together in two rehearsals, so the four rehearsals for this program will seem like a luxury. That Garbutt is well-known in the community is also an asset."
Orchestra members also turned to one of their own for a solo turn in Tuesday's 7 p.m. concert. Concertmaster Andres Cardenes, recently returned from some hastily scheduled performances in New York City, will play Wieniawski's Second Violin Concerto in D Minor. Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony in F Minor will be the concert's major work.
Garbutt, who is also the orchestra's principal tuba player, has only recently revived his conducting career and aspirations. After what he thought was a good track record of leading the Pops through its first three seasons, Garbutt learned two months before the opening of the 1986 Pops season that his services as resident Pops conductor were no longer needed, and that he would conduct but a single week of the 12-week 1986 season.
"After that blow, it took a while to make the decision to get back into conducting seriously," he admitted. Last week he led the all-Mozart concert played by San Diego Symphony members in Ramona. Next month he will conduct a winter Pops concert for the San Jose Symphony, an orchestra he conducted earlier this year and one with which he hopes to continue as it expands its Pops programming.
In Garbutt's three years as resident San Diego Pops conductor, he developed a gregarious, comical manner that was a hit with Pops audiences, although his podium humor did not always endear him to the local critics. He was serious about his Pops conducting, and in order to devote more time to Pops planning, Garbutt resigned his position as the symphony's assistant conductor in December, 1984, a post he had held since 1980.
Like other matters brought to light during the current symphony crisis, Garbutt's fall from grace at the Pops helm appears to have been tied to behind-the-scenes decisions made by symphony music director David Atherton, who had initially invited Garbutt to lead the Pops when it opened in 1983.
"Following the first Pops season, which the association was touting as a tremendous success, I met with Atherton. I was expecting a pat on the back for a job well done," Garbutt said. From the temperamental Atherton, however, he received an upbraiding for what Atherton described as his lack of conducting expertise. That was the end of the positive relationship between the two musicians.
"It took a while for me to get my momentum back after Atherton's harsh criticism," Garbutt said.
When asked if setting up an orchestra series independent of the symphony association would make it difficult to return to Atherton's direction if and when the current dispute is settled, Garbutt dismissed such concerns.
"We're paid to make music, not like the guy," he said. "We'll just watch his stick. It's really not a big thing to find orchestra players less than enamored of their resident conductor."