Search for Conductor Is Focused on Covelli

August 27, 1987|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

The guest conductor who captured the adulation of Glendale Symphony Orchestra musicians during that group's final performance last season may take a permanent place at the podium, ending a three-year search for a leader, officials said.

Glendale symphony officers said they will probably offer the post to New York conductor John Covelli.

"We would like it to be a longtime, permanent relationship," Douglas L. Callister, president of the Glendale Symphony Assn., said.

Final Decision to Come

However, Callister said, he and other board members will put off a final decision until the end of the upcoming concert season in which Covelli will appear as guest conductor in three of six scheduled performances.

"This is a little of a transition year to make sure he's the right man," he said.

The three remaining concerts will feature guest conductors Morton Gould, John Williams and Newton Wayland.

Covelli, who heads the Binghamton (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra, grabbed the attention of Glendale Symphony officials during his debut with the orchestra last April. The accomplished pianist led the musicians through a rendition of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" while simultaneously playing the piano. When it was over, the musicians stomped their feet in praise.

"We've never seen that happen," Callister said. "And it indicated to us that, as professional musicians, they had found a measure of excellence there."

Stuart Canin, concertmaster and violinist, agreed with Callister's assessment.

"Of all the candidates presented to us, he seems the most likely to succeed in terms of what the Glendale Symphony needs," Canin said. "He seems to have a serious bent and also seems to realize that popular music doesn't mean bad music."

Dragon Left Vacancy

Officials have been searching for a permanent musical adviser and conductor since the March, 1984, death of longtime symphony leader Carmen Dragon.

The symphony signed Daniel Lewis, former director of the Pasadena Symphony, to a one-year contract after Dragon's death. But that partnership dissolved after the season when Lewis reportedly was unable to persuade symphony board members to exchange its traditional fare of light classics and pops for a repertoire of more serious classical music.

The search for a conductor began again after Lewis' departure. And, since that time, a series of guest conductors have stepped to the podium--including big-name maestros Williams, who is returning this year as a guest, Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin and Anshel Brusilow.

Mancini, composer of hit movie themes such as "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Moon River," and Williams, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra who composed scores for such films as "Star Wars," "Jaws," and "E.T.," were never likely candidates because of the high salaries they command and already packed schedules, said Shirley Seeley, a full-time volunteer administrator for the symphony.

Seeking Commitment

Board members want someone who can commit from five to 10 years to the orchestra, Seeley said.

"I think we were just being super careful to pick that perfect person who fits," she said. "John Williams is overworked and Mancini isn't looking for a permanent home. . . . Covelli only performed with us once, but we thought we'd like to see how we worked together."

In a telephone interview from his Binghamton office, Covelli said he is very interested in assuming the post.

"We had a really good meeting of the minds on stage. . . . I would like very much to continue that association," he said.

Founded in 1924, the Glendale Symphony is widely considered Glendale's most important cultural and social organization. The group performs in the 3,213-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It is made up of 95 professional free-lance musicians and is strongly supported by the city's wealthy business community.

Its loyal following has set the orchestra apart from others throughout the country, which are struggling to stay in tune with their financial obligations.

For instance, 80 of the American Symphony Orchestra League's largest orchestras lost a total of $10 million last year, the organization reported. The Glendale Symphony, by contrast, drew its usual 90% capacity crowds during the 1986-87 season and posted a $22,000 profit, said its treasurer, Alan C. Emmons.

Ticket purchases accounted for 40% of last season's $380,000 budget. Another 27% came from corporate and private contributions, Emmons said. The rest was met by grants from the city and county, fund-raising and investment earnings.

"You don't have to do much checking around the country to find out this is unbelievable," Covelli said. "We're talking about the fact that maybe this orchestra has found some sort of niche for survival with a very positive end result in a business that is really facing a very grave forecast."

Soloed at Age 5

A lifelong concert pianist, Covelli first performed a piano solo at age 5. Four years later he was appearing with the Chicago Symphony.

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