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Music Reviews : List-Glenn Strings

July 30, 1988|CHRIS PASLES

One of the stated aims of the List-Glenn Institute at Cal State Los Angeles is to assist in the training of young musicians, and it was this goal that dominated events at the State Playhouse on Thursday, with mixed results.

On the plus side, the 24 members of the List-Glenn String Orchestra, led by Taiwanese conductor Chi-Jen Chang, showed that they are serious and united in purpose. They demonstrated careful training. They succeeded in sustaining basic musical interest and pulse. They proved sensitive to the differences in various styles.

But they were not equal in security and strength. At times, they didn't seem to be listening or responding to one another. They tended to slur over rhythms in long, undifferentiated bow strokes. They were increasingly plagued by pitch problems.

Of course, the ensemble, a mix of students and teachers with the weight heavy on the student side, has been playing together only since July 6. And, while Chang led them with nurturing attention, he did not demonstrate much insight into the scores, either.

The musicians seemed more at home with the angular tunes of Bartok's Roumanian Folk Dances than with the lyricism of Elgar's Serenade for Strings.

Perhaps they were simply fatigued when they closed with the third set of Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances," so marred by wayward pitch was the exposed playing of the individual sections.

Perhaps their most impressive efforts occurred in Nan-Chang Chien's appealing, abstract tone-painting, "Nebula," receiving what was billed as its first North American performance.

Here, 13 players, arranged in a close horseshoe configuration, had to explore formal ideas--contrasting thematic shapes, sustained notes, variety in attack--and then move, with seemingly spontaneous evolution, into earthy folk-like passages and motoric rhythms, returning, in the subsiding final section, to reminiscences of the opening material. An interesting piece, the challenges reasonably met.

The orchestra opened the program with a brightly etched account of Sibelius' hymn-like "Andante festivo."

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