Incipient fatherhood prevented Jorge Mester from leaving his wife and New York home to prepare his Pasadena Symphony for its concert Saturday at Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Enter 23-year-old Mark Stringer, a one-time pupil of Mester's, not to lead a standard, concerto-in-the-middle program, but the ecstatic sprawl of Berlioz's dramatic symphony, "Romeo and Juliet." Stringer did himself and Berlioz proud.
Things began unpromisingly, with the orchestra's scrambled reading of the fugal introduction, but, with the entrance of a crack contingent from John Alexander's Pacific Chorale (what lovely soft singing!) and mezzo-soprano Jacalyn Bower's passionate, rich-voiced intonation of the prologue, events proceeded impressively, if not always with optimum instrumental precision.
Still, the orchestra's best moments were up to its highest standards: the winds's nimble accompaniment to the wittily incisive delivery by tenor Paul Sperry of Mercutio's scherzetto; the cellos's luscious proclamation of the big tune in the Love Scene; the horn quartet's gleeful virtuosity in the punishing fanfares of the "Queen Mab" scherzo.