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Randy Lewis

Performers Ply the Public, for Less Than a Song

December 20, 1987|Randy Lewis

Unless Pavarotti announces his retirement--or that he'll stop making movies--don't expect much real "news" from this handshaking session.

--Ernest Perry

Usually at this time of year I start waxing nostalgic about warm holiday characters like Kris Kringle, Bob Cratchit and George ("It's A Wonderful Life") Bailey.

But this week I've been reminded of Elliot Carlin.

For those who don't remember "The Bob Newhart Show" of the '70s, Elliot Carlin was a real estate magnate with the generosity of Scrooge and the charm of a piranha.

A patient of psychologist Bob Hartley, Carlin--the one man who didn't think Christmas was commercial enough --arrived for his therapy session one Christmas uncharacteristically humble and full of cheer.

"My father just pulled through a very touchy operation," Carlin explained to the astonished Dr. Hartley. "The doctor said he never would have made it if it wasn't for that blood I sold him."

Newhart's series died in 1978, but the spirit of Mr. Carlin lives on in the way a couple of local groups are kind-heartedly opening their doors to the public--for a price.

Couldn't afford the $9 to $35 it cost to hear the Pacific Symphony play with pianist Claudio Arrau at the Orange County Performing Arts Center last Wednesday or Thursday? Well, Monday, for just $7, you could have attended an "open rehearsal" and heard the orchestra work out its mistakes.

And next month, some lucky Luciano Pavarotti fans will be admitted to a "press conference" preceding his benefit performance for Opera Pacific-- if they buy a $420-a-couple package from a Costa Mesa hotel.

What's going on here? Can't anything take place without somebody selling tickets to it? My gut reaction Monday night was that $7 is a stiff price to watch someone practice. Our Manhattan brethren can get into New York Philharmonic open rehearsals for just $4.

As Aretha Franklin once asked: Who's zooming who?

One local singer explained why she paid the seven bucks: "I've never seen the Center, and it's a cheap way to get in. It's on a Monday, which is an off-night for me, and if it's lousy, I won't feel bad about leaving early." (She left early.)

I can't argue with logic like that, but as someone who played music through college, I took part in years of rehearsals. So I bristle at the thought of anyone paying more than a dollar or two to hear the Pacific Symphony do its stretching exercises.

An open rehearsal can provide a fascinating glimpse into the way music is conceived and executed, especially if it involves a visionary conductor or guest musician. But this wasn't so much a working rehearsal as a dry run of the impending concerts. And pianist Arrau, perhaps $7 short for the night, wasn't even there.

Speaking of short . . .

Short of the kind of educational experience you'd expect a New York Phil or Chicago Symphony rehearsal to be, the truth is that most rehearsals are boring. The most important function is going over troublesome sections again. And again. And again.

Conductor Keith Clark stopped a couple of times to polish up an accent here, a crescendo there but never really hammered away at one phrase or drilled one section of the orchestra--at least not during the 2 1/2-hour stretch I was there.

So Monday's workout with the Pacific Symphony didn't present an insightful behind-the-scenes look into the creation of a performance. Neither did it offer an informal visit with the concert's star.

It did, however, cut the orchestra's cost of renting Segerstrom Hall for the fine-tuning session. This is called trickle-down economics: The Center bills the Pacific and the Pacific bills the public.

As to the selling of the press conference, arts groups around here already have enough problems knowing when to call one.

Yes--if the entire Bolshoi Ballet defects while the company is in Orange County and publicly calls for political asylum.

No--if it's just a famous ballet dancer stopping in town for a free dinner.

Local arts officials haven't yet figured out the legitimate function of the press conference: to provide media access to a newsmaker-- not just a celebrity.

These folks call press conferences to release annual budgets to three reporters--but not when concert-goers get trapped in elevators. They call more press conferences than the President of the United States. OK, so maybe it's a bad example.

There are hard press conferences (U.S.-Soviet summit results) and soft ones (Joan Collins' divorce settlement), but ours are getting mushier every day. Now they're even being used to boost ticket sales and hotel occupancy.

With the cooperation of Opera Pacific and the Center, a hotel that shall go unnamed (lest we drum up more business for it) has taken out ads offering a $420-per-couple package that includes two nights' lodging, two $125 tickets to the Pavarotti concert and admission to the press conference.

But then, the hotel may have just been inspired by Pavarotti's own myriad ways of exploiting himself in recent years.

He's done TV talk shows, a stunningly bad movie ("Yes Giorgio"), sappy pop recordings--you get the feeling that if there was a check in it he'd sing at the opening of a matchbook cover.

So unless Pavarotti announces his retirement--or that he'll stop making movies--don't expect much real "news" from this handshaking session. It's just another excuse for him to pose for pictures, deliver predictably glowing praise for everyone involved, wave to the fans and be on his way--after he's collected his loot, that is.

Elliot Carlin would have loved it.

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