As the orchestra launched into George Gershwin's Concerto in F a few summers ago at the outdoor Redlands Bowl, a dog ran onto the stage and stared at the pianist.
The musicians in the Bowl Orchestra also are warned to steel themselves against cats that occasionally wander across the stage--or crickets that can all but drown them out.
Nor are animals the only threat to a successful outdoor concert or performance. Musicians say that heat can cause a violin to become unglued and humidity can create moisture, which makes strings slippery.
Yet performers and concertgoers are more than willing to endure possible glitches to be part of outdoor concerts in the Los Angeles area. From Redlands to Whittier to Laguna to Beverly Hills, hundreds of thousands of Angelenos each summer attend classical music performances under the sun or stars. And there is a reason.
"It's like going out and experiencing nature and music and food and drink at the same time, which is not a normal thing for a concert," said Daniel Rothmuller, associate principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, describing his experience playing at Hollywood Bowl and attending concerts there.
'Out There to Have a Good Time'
"The ambiance is so different from the formality of the concert hall, where you see everybody in suits and ties," Rothmuller said. "You walk out at the Bowl and you see all those boxes and colorful tablecloths and people are out there to have a good time and they are very relaxed. . . .
"There's also an aesthetic magic about being under the stars. I guess the only way I can say it is that you see the moon and it's beautiful. It's kind of a hush that comes over the whole audience when darkness finally comes. In a concert hall, you're aware of almost every cough, but in the Bowl you don't seem to notice things."
About 70 miles east of Hollywood Bowl, Harley Tillitt, a retired U.S. Navy mathematician who lives in Redlands, offers similar reasons for attending the Redlands Bowl.
He said going to the indoor symphony is a "whole different situation. We have reserved seats and you get in there and 'play like' you like to listen to Mahler's symphony even though it takes about 1 1/2 hours."
But when Tillitt goes to the Redlands Bowl: "The stars are overhead, the flags are flying and you see your neighbor down the way. It's kind of like being on a picnic with music or maybe ballet."
The Redlands Bowl, which Tillitt first attended 50 years ago, is one of the oldest outdoor concert spots in Southern California. The sloped, concrete, 4,500-seat amphitheater was started in 1923 by Redlands resident Grace Mullen and is celebrating its 65th anniversary.
Mullen's project was inspired when she fled the hot Redlands summer and visited the then-new Hollywood Bowl, said Conant Halsey, chairman of the board of the Redlands Community Music Assn. Inc., which runs the Redlands Bowl.
"The Redlands area didn't have much in the way of cultural advantages," Halsey said. "She and others could go to Los Angeles for ballets and symphonies but local people couldn't afford it. She wanted to provide classical and cultural entertainment for people in the area."
To provide that artistry, Mullen and future managers of the Bowl developed a sharp eye for young talent. Over the years the youthful performers who appeared at the Redlands Bowl included Leontyne Price, Shirley Verrett, Jerome Hines, John Charles Thomas, Isaac Stern, Andre Previn and Ferde Grofe.
Performers such as these have drawn crowds reaching 6,000, including spectators sitting on the grass near the seats. This year, music lovers can see nine classical concerts, opera or ballet, and, in keeping with Mullen's original policy, no concertgoer will pay a cent for admission.
The Community Music Assn. raises nearly $200,000 to underwrite the entire summer concert schedule, classical and popular. The association holds a fund-raising drive before the summer schedule begins and passes the hat at performances, where the most common individual contribution is $1.
For those who like their music outdoors but who break out in hives at the thought of battling freeway traffic all the way to Redlands, there are closer and less unnerving possibilities.
In Orange County, the Pacific Symphony will present a new five-concert evening series at the 15,000-seat Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in Laguna Hills. The concerts, including one conducted by Morton Gould, will be performed alongside acres of picnic grounds for families.
"We're hoping that this will be an alternative to Hollywood Bowl," said Louis G. Spisto, executive director of the Pacific Symphony. "It's a big trip, especially for people who live in the southern part of the county, to drive all the way to Hollywood.
"We think people who have been to Hollywood Bowl will notice the ease of not having to fight for a picnic space. It's also not in the middle of the city. It's surrounded by countryside, so it's an ideal environment to enjoy classical music."