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MUSIC : Beethovenhalle Orchestra: What's in a Name, Anyway? : The Bonn-based group will play Beethoven, yes, but the name has more to do with its home venue than repertoire.

March 28, 1990|CHRIS PASLES

This is a lesson in humility. When news came that the Orchester der Beethovenhalle Bonn was going to play Friday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, some of us got quite excited.

To neophyte ears-- these neophyte ears--the name suggested a special relationship to Beethoven, the heaven-storming master of classical music.

Reality turned out to be a bit drier.

"The Beethoven Halle is the concert hall in Bonn," said music direct or Dennis Russell Davies in a recent phone interview from Kalamazoo, Mich., where the orchestra is playing on its current 18-city tour. (Other stops include Torrance on Saturday and Pasadena on Monday. Friday's concert is sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society.)

"This is the orchestra of the city (of Bonn)," Davies said. "The orchestra plays in that hall. That's the traditional way in Europe. You've got the Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam and the Gewandhaus in Leipzig . . . and the orchestras that play in those halls take those names."

Oh dear.

Actually, the orchestra was formed in 1897--long after the master's death in 1827--as the Koblenz Philharmonic. It was adopted by the city of Bonn in 1907 and since 1963 has carried its present name.

With all due apologies to the good citizens of both cities, it's hard to imagine getting very fired up about a group called the Koblenz or the Bonn Philharmonic.

Still, Germany has been very good to Davies. He has fashioned an international career from positions in Stuttgart and Bonn.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Davies studied at the Juilliard School, where he and Luciano Berio founded the Juilliard Ensemble in 1968. His first major post was that of music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, from 1972-80.

In 1980, he became general music director of the Stuttgart State Opera for seven years. Since 1988, he has been artistic director and chief conductor of the city of Bonn, West Germany. As such, he is responsible for 12 concert programs each season and two operatic productions.

"The city has a very large music budget for a symphony orchestra, opera house and chamber music," he said. "There are other music activities, but these are sponsored by the city. I'm in charge of that music that the city sponsors."

One thing he is not in charge of is fund raising for these activities.

"I'm not sort of exempt from fund raising: It's not permitted. In Germany, I'm employed by the City Council. My boss is the city manager. There is no private funding. . . . If I want to tour, I lobby the City Council."

The close connection to government funding doesn't affect programming decisions, however.

"There has been no hint of any kind of artistic interference. I never had that in the States either," he added.

Davies finds only one crucial difference between his American and European audiences.

"I never did find much difference in the audiences, to tell the truth, except that American audiences are generally older than the European audiences," he said.

Is that a result of a lack of music education programs in our schools?

"That may have something to do with it," Davies said. "Prices may have something to do with it. Peer pressure may have something to do with it. . . . Also, those of us making symphonic programs and policy have to think about our program content to get a wider mix of audiences in the concerts in the first place.

"It starts with the way you package the activity: What happens at the concert? What is the content of the music? How is it presented? What does the event look like? If you take a particular age group, would you like to be at a concert if you were in that group?

"The problem sometimes is that normal subscription series symphony orchestra concerts get to be regular and predictable--from the repertory, to how it's laid out, to how the evening runs, the way everybody looks, what they do before and afterwards. . . .

"If you like that regularity, that predictability--and some people do--that's fine. But if you don't, one solution is to try to structure a series of concerts that give people different experiences. In Europe, there has been a concerted effort to do something like that over a long time."

Davies has been known to Californians for leading the Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz County since 1974.

He was one of four co-founders of the Manhattan-based American Composers Orchestra in 1975 and has been the group's principal conductor. He was principal conductor and classical music program director of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Upstate New York (the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra) from 1985-88.

The East Coast now will see him on an even more regular basis, however. In December, he was named music director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and principal conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, starting in 1991. His contract lasts until 1994 and stipulates a minimum of six weeks' presence in Brooklyn each season.

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