LA JOLLA — Turnabout may be fair play, but it's hardly a commendable programming device. In a season-opening concert Friday night, the International Orchestra used role reversal to questionable musical ends, although it packed Sherwood Auditorium.
Pianist Gustavo Romero, no longer the native son prodigy but a musician of international stature, returned to perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, a feat he accomplished with customary insight and authority. In his conducting debut, however, he presided over a decidedly generic Symphony No. 29 in A Major by Mozart. Although Romero's fingers coaxed graceful, sparkling phrases and an array of subtle colors from the Steinway, his stiff gestures did not inspire parallel results from the orchestra.
International Orchestra music director Zoltan Rozsnyai boasts a long and notable career on the podium, but his keyboard skills are hardly up to concert standards. So while the maestro elicited a jaunty, stylish reading of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony from his orchestra, his performance of the second piano part in Mozart's E-flat Major Concerto for Two Pianos was wooden and graceless. And his flawed echoes of Romero's pristine motives only underscored his digital deficiencies.
One wonders where this questionable fad of role reversal will turn up next. Will San Diego Opera director Ian Campbell sing the lead in "Otello" next season? Will San Diego Symphony concertmaster Igor Gruppman announce that he has finished composing the missing movements in Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony? Will San Diego's mayor Maureen O'Connor curate shows for the local art museum? This could be an alarming trend.
Back in stuffy Sherwood Auditorium, it should be noted that Friday's concert was just short of a marathon. In addition to four works already mentioned, Romero soloed in Mozart's Concert Rondo in D Major, K. 382, with Rozsnyai conducting. Following on the heels of the B-flat Major Concerto, a mature composition in which Romero conjured ethereal moods and sculpted elegant textures, the boisterous Concert Rondo proved a jarring, redundant coda.
In its first performance this season, the International Orchestra sounded respectable and more confident than it did last year. It proudly displayed its fluent woodwind soloists, who were as inspiring as its stumbling horn players were maddening.