After years of waiting for the successor of longtime symphony leader Carmen Dragon, the city's musical community was introduced last week to four-time Emmy winner and internationally acclaimed conductor Lalo Schifrin, the Glendale Symphony Orchestra's first permanent musical director since 1984.
Schifrin said he will add more serious classical music and works by non-European composers to the symphony's traditional fare of light classics and pops. But the selection will continue to be fun and accessible to listeners of all ages and degrees of musical sophistication, he said.
"There's a tendency to say that there are two levels--the audience and the musicians," Schifrin, 58, told about 150 guests at the Verdugo Club on April 27. The Argentine conductor said he rejected that notion.
"No, no, I think there are two possibilities. Either the musician goes down to the level of what we think is the layman's, or we try to come up to the level of the music without being academic about it or giving too many music lessons," Schifrin said.
"Please have fun, but at the same time, those who choose having moments of introspection during the concert, they will have an opportunity to do that too."
Schifrin's appointment last month ended a five-year search that followed the death of longtime symphony leader Dragon in 1984. The symphony signed Daniel Lewis, former director of the Pasadena Symphony, to a one-year contract the following year. But the partnership dissolved after Lewis reportedly said he was unable to persuade the symphony's board of directors to accept a more serious, less commercial repertory.
A parade of guest conductors followed--including such big-name maestros as Henry Mancini, Boston Pops Conductor John Williams and Schifrin, who conducted last year's version of the symphony's traditional Christmas concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
"We're delighted to have him," symphony administrator Shirley Seeley said. "He seems like the perfect match for us."
Schifrin said last week that the upcoming Christmas concert will retain the same format. "We are going to do different music, but the format of the show is going to be really the same because why tamper with success?"
The six-concert season will feature compositions "from all over the world," Schifrin said. He mentioned those of Mexico's Jose Moncayo, Spain's Manuel de Falla, Argentina's Alberto Ginastera, Schifrin's own work and a complete rendition of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.
On the lighter side, there will be guest appearances by jazz and rhythm-and-blues pianist Ray Charles, 11-year-old violinist Tamaki, a night of love duets from such opera classics as "La Traviatta," "La Boheme" and "Madame Butterfly," and a selection of symphonic marches culminating with John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."
Douglas L. Callister, Glendale Symphony Orchestra Assn. president, gave Schifrin a warm welcome.
"You may well wish to remember that for 20 years we continued our relationship with Carmen Dragon," Callister said.
"And that will be but a short duration in comparison to the time that he enjoys with us," Callister said of Schifrin.
An eclectic musician of multiple talents, Schifrin excelled as a pianist and composer before establishing his reputation as a conductor. He began his career in Buenos Aires, where his concertmaster father grounded him in the classical tradition.
But the young Schifrin rebelled and embraced jazz while studying with composer Olivier Messaien in the Paris Conservatory. In 1958, he emigrated from Argentina to the United States to join jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie's band.
His love for jazz remained a strong attribute of his style when years later he moved to Los Angeles and returned to symphonic music.
Film, TV Scores
Since then, in addition to his work as a classic composer, he has written more than 100 scores for film and television, including "Mission Impossible," "Starsky and Hutch," "Cool Hand Luke" and "Dirty Harry," earning six Academy Award nominations and four Grammys.
Schifrin's classic pieces have been interpreted by orchestras throughout the world and such virtuosos as double-bassist Gary Karr and tenor Placido Domingo.
He has conducted the Israel Philharmonic, the Mexico Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the National Symphonic Orchestra of Argentina.
Last year, Schifrin was appointed musical director of the Paris Philharmonic. The inaugural concert took place at the Theatre des Champs Elysees.
In contrast with his program for the Glendale symphony, Schifrin's Paris Philharmonic specializes in non-conventional music. "We will do all kinds of music, from transcriptions of Perotin and Machaut all the way to Lutoslawski. We will try to stay much of the time outside the standard repertory," he said in November.
The Glendale symphony will make its first appearance this year with a free summer pops concert at Glendale High School on July 22.