SAN DIEGO — To welcome back its San Diego audiences after a discordant 18-month hiatus, the San Diego Symphony management is conjuring a festive party mood.
The welcoming amenities at tonight's and Saturday's symphony performances include balloons festooned outside the hall and roses presented to all the women in the audience.
And to please those who actually come for the music, guest conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith will lead the newly reconstituted San Diego Symphony in a program of Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Copland and the Grieg Piano Concerto with Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker.
An engaging and enthusiastic conductor, Smith recently gained notice and critical approbation for his recordings with the Moscow Philharmonic--the first American conductor to record with a Soviet orchestra. Smith is music director and resident conductor of the Louisville (Ky.) Orchestra.
Smith admitted that he had some trepidation coming to San Diego to conduct.
"There were rumors that everybody was gone--that sort of thing," he said. After his first rehearsal with the San Diego musicians, however, Smith was ebullient.
"This orchestra is eager like crazy to play. What's really tough is to rehearse with an orchestra just before a strike. You know something's in the air, but you are powerless to do anything about it."
The program Smith is conducting here is quite traditional, an irony not lost on him. "The Louisville Orchestra just completed a huge new music celebration, a two-week festival, which reaffirmed our position as the leading exponent for new music in this country," he explained. "But sometimes I like a break, too."
According to Smith, performing traditional repertory does not mean an orchestra can play on automatic pilot. "In the Brahms Second Symphony, the second movement is a killer, and always will be to get it right. It will take every ounce of rehearsal time we have."
Although the articulate conductor did not claim to have the magic answer to the current financial dilemmas of many American orchestras, he observed that new marketing schemes have to be attempted, such as breaking a symphony orchestra into smaller ensembles that go out and play multiple concerts on the same night to increase income.
"We do it a lot in Louisville. Half of the orchestra goes down to the pit and plays the opera, while the other half does a Bach-Vivaldi concert, or something like that. We're trying to diversify."
The first evidence of the San Diego Symphony's new outreach was Thursday's free noontime concert downtown at the Bank of America building plaza. Under Fabio Mechetti, the orchestra's new resident conductor, the musicians played Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Hoedown" from "Rodeo."