In 1988, as in many previous summer seasons, opening night at Hollywood Bowl was given over to rituals--the lengthy rituals of picnics and outdoor dining, of greeting friends not seen for awhile and of the traditional release of colored balloons over Cahuenga Pass at the end of the National Anthem.
But, this year, with the debut appearance by Soviet conductor Yuri Temirkanov leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Tuesday night, it was also an opening devoted to discovery.
Temirkanov--the 49-year-old artistic director of the Kirov Opera and former music director of the Leningrad Symphony--has been for more than a decade a fixture on European podiums, as well as a regular visitor to the United States. Only Tuesday did he make his West Coast debut, however--his scheduled first visit here in 1980 was abruptly canceled by the Soviet government.
Judging from the playing of the Philharmonic in a frankly pops program given over to Borodin's "Prince Igor" Overture, a Khachaturian concerto and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," the wiry, serious, energetic Temirkanov has been worth waiting for. In other hands, this conventional agenda might have suffered an uneventful performance; in his, it became revelatory.
The discoveries actually began before the concert proper, with "The Star-Spangled Banner," taken at a hymn-like slow tempo. Temirkanov is hardly the first guest conductor to take such a pace, of course. Over the years, we have observed the emergence of a simple rule here, with respect to national anthems: The greater the distance the conductor has traveled, the slower will be the tempo chosen for "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Deep, if far from lugubrious, probing of the musical materials followed in Temirkanov's satisfying account of the Borodin overture, a bonus of which was transparency of textures throughout the orchestra. Obviously, the new sound system has something to do with this, but the basic quality must first exist in the instrumental performance; here it did.
James Galway, a familiar soloist in these environs, returned at mid-program to play his own transcription of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, a smooth and convincing affair.
With affectionate, tight and detailed support from Temirkanov and the Philharmonic, Galway accomplished abundant technical feats and musical communication with unflappable ease.
For some listeners, some jaded listeners, Temirkanov's ear-opening performance of Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures" was the big surprise of this opening night.
The intense, magnetic and ever-kinetic (but never distractingly kinetic) conductor, with the most splendid cooperation of the Philharmonic, simply brought out all the many colors in this kaleidoscopic score, but without fussiness, and made of each Picture a self-contained musical vignette.
He chose perfect--but not arbitrary or unyielding--tempos for each separate item, shaped every "Promenade"-connection into a unique and special moment, and seemed to think of the entire suite as an entity, not merely a collection of individual pieces. The results, including some wondrous moments from our orchestral soloists, proved eloquent, colorful, fully characterized.