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Around the Foothills

The music between conductor and audience had a syncopated rhythm.

July 27, 1989|DOUG SMITH

It may be yet too early to declare a marriage bond.

But the signs appeared auspicious Saturday night as the debonair new music director of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra warmly wooed his picnic classical crowd in the city's fourth summer pops concert.

The music between them had a syncopated rhythm.

Argentine-born composer and conductor Lalo Schifrin stood in white formal jacket on the all-black stage.

The 6,500 listeners lounged in whatever felt good on deck chairs and blankets across the infield of the Glendale High School stadium and up one bank of bleachers.

He addressed them in mildly fractured English that managed a formal tone even through its outward earthiness. He told nearly ribald jokes that were none too spare in words. He unhesitatingly delivered the obligatory national schmaltz and paid tribute to his beloved predecessor, the late Carmen Dragon. For each piece, he came up with a clever line.

Of the unmistakable French chorus line tune by Offenbach, he said: "You know, the cancan was actually the beginning of aerobics."

The audience responded with uninhibited pleasure. They cheered the national anthem like a baseball crowd. They kicked their legs to "Can Can." They clapped through "Funiculi Funicula." They stood and danced with "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Schifrin never once remonstrated with the children who persisted in playing tag and dashing up and down the bleachers most of the night, but somehow knew to be still during the long and delicate "Bolero" of Ravel.

The theme of the concert--repeating last year's collage of musical cultures--followed the lighter metaphor of a tour.

Schifrin sprinkled the message with an internationalism that was as light as the music and his own Latin accent.

"After the 'Star-Spangled Banner,' we play the 'Marseillaise,' the national anthem of France," he said, "because we want to join the celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution which happened last week."

Later, he took the audience to Mexico with "Cielito Lindo," a Dragon arrangement that was sweet with Hollywood strings.

For his native Argentina, he conducted a malambo, or gaucho dance. "It's only a male dance," he said. "They try to seduce ladies by showing off."

It was crisp, energetic, rigorous in detail, a harbinger, perhaps of the way Schifrin intends to move the pop-classic legacy left by Dragon.

The 57-year-old Schifrin, most celebrated for his Hollywood work as composer of catchy TV themes such as those of "Mission: Impossible" and "Mannix," has recently accepted the position of music director of the Paris Symphony.

Selected this spring after a rocky five-year search for Dragon's replacement, Schifrin publicly promised the orchestra's leadership that he would raise the musical horizons without trying to stuff the shirts of its audience. Any doubts about his willingness to connect viscerally disappeared Saturday as Schifrin told his first of two shaggy dog stories.

It's the one about the traveling bachelor who counseled his brother in the nicety of breaking bad news gently by spreading it over several phone calls. Instead of telling the bachelor in one blunt phone call that his cat died by falling from the roof, the brother's first call should have communicated simply that the cat was on the roof.

"I'm sorry. I was insensitive," the chastened brother finally had to admit.

"That's OK," the other replied. "Anyway, how is mother?"

"She's on the roof."

There was a great laughter.

Schifrin wrapped up his remarks on a bit of sly history.

"Now, you know at the beginning, we started with the 'Marseillaise,' when the French were winning," he said. "Now we are going to play '1812.' Equal time."

Tchaikovsky's rousing "1812 Overture," chronicling Russia's defeat of Napoleon, ended with the obligatory fireworks show.

After playing the unscheduled finale of "Stars and Stripes," the musicians packed up and departed swiftly. Schifrin stayed behind, receiving strangers from the audience.

"Next year we are going to do a concert of Fabulous '40s," he told one effervescently. "Movie music like 'Laura.' And we are going to do music from Broadway shows. Then Big Band era."

In no apparent hurry, Schifrin strolled off the field, stopping often to shake a hand, sign an autograph or chat about music.

"Are you into Wynton Marsalis?" he asked a junior high-aged boy who said he was studying to play both classical and jazz.

"Can you sign this?" a man asked.

"Absolutely."

After receiving a parting hug from the orchestra's executive director, Shirley Seeley, Schifrin walked with his wife, Donna, and daughter, Frances, to a limousine that awaited.

It appears Glendale again has a musical guru who likes his audience as much as he likes his work. The timing was fortuitous.

Prior to this year's concert, there were voices in City Hall questioning the wisdom of the city's donation of $63,000 for the one-night stand. They should now be silent.

In any city that lines its downtown streets with American flags for the month of July, a cost of $10 a head to get the populace dancing to John Philip Sousa should be reasonable enough.

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