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MUSIC REVIEW : Hollywood Bowl Opens: The Gala That Wasn't : Guest conductor David Zinman leads the L.A. Philharmonic in a rather dull and dutiful program of Tchaikovsky warhorses.

July 08, 1993|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

Gala is an interesting word. According to my trusty dictionary, it means "a festive occasion" or "celebration." That would seem to imply something unusual.

But the concert billed as the "gala season opening" at Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday wasn't unusual at all, apart from some posies and TV cameras scattered about the 18,000-seat amphitheater.

Technically, the event wasn't even an opening. Various cartoon shows, pops extravaganzas and fireworks displays--not to mention one bona fide symphonic concert--have attracted the devout to Cahuenga Pass since June 18.

No. It was business as usual Tuesday night. Dull and dutiful business, much of the time.

The conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was David Zinman, a reliable routinier from Baltimore. The soloist was Nelson Goerner, a little-known 24-year-old pianist from Argentina.

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The program was devoted to favorite hum-along products from the lucrative Tchaikovsky slushpump. As such, it purported to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the composer's still-mysterious death (Nov. 6, 1893) while it anticipated the pyrotechnical "Spectacular" indulgences scheduled for Aug. 13-15, same time, same place.

The personnel may not have been stellar, and the repertory certainly was not imaginative. Still, the "gala" that wasn't attracted an audience of 10,548, with top tickets fetching $63. Never underestimate the appeal of a conspicuous picnic.

The non-festivities began with something relatively obscure: Tchaikovsky's modest "Coronation March" of 1883. This generic piece d'occasion does not reveal the composer at his inspired best, but it makes a nice, cheery, pompous noise. Zinman conducted it with the same flamboyant vigor that had marked his performance of the obligatory "Star-Spangled Banner."

The First Piano Concerto, which functioned as the centerpiece of the evening, did not go nearly as well. In fact, it went wild and wayward.

Young Goerner--who may have been suffering from debut nerves--roared, raced and thumped his way through the extrovert solo passages with chaotic zeal, trampling rhythmic definitions in the process and sometimes beating the orchestra to the cadence. One could admire his dexterity and his impetuosity, if not his steadiness or musicality.

Zinman and the orchestra provided a calm, of sorts, following the would-be virtuosic storm, with the sentimental platitudes of the "Pathetique." The visiting maestro could not erase memories of the brooding grandeur with which Carlo Maria Giulini used to ennoble this music, much less the heroic passions defined by Yevgeny Mravinsky on his legendary recordings with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Zinman did demonstrate a healthy respect for coherence and cumulative logic, however, not to mention interpretive restraint.

If he mustered no new insights, he at least kept the traffic moving with reasonable dispatch. And he proved that he knows the difference between bathos and pathos. In context, one had to be thankful for small, orderly favors.

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