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MUSIC REVIEW : David Alan Miller Returns With an American Program


Tuesday nights at Hollywood Bowl tend to be high-energy affairs, the beginning of a new week usually infecting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its loyal subscribers with optimism and good cheer.

Not this week, when the final Tuesday concert of the 1993 summer season found both the resident orchestra and its apparently distracted audience (reportedly numbering 10,213) a little out of sorts. Such bad vibes did not necessarily emanate from the person of guest conductor David Alan Miller, yet he did little to dispel them.

A promising, historically limited American program--works written in the 20 years between 1925 and 1944--proved too limited in style to excite the casual, experienced listener; nor did conductor Miller and the soloist of the evening, pianist Alan Feinberg, seem to bring new insights or exceptional enlightenment to this agenda: Samuel Barber's "School for Scandal" Overture, Gershwin's Concerto in F, three dance episodes from Leonard Bernstein's "On the Town" and the suite from Copland's "Billy the Kid."

It was a low-voltage evening. Consequently, and not surprisingly, the lack of energy coming off the stage resulted in scrappy, accident-prone, temporally unaligned readings that also failed to lift the audience out of its apparent lethargy.

Our Philharmonic did its best playing, post-intermission, in generally smooth accounts of these famous, and usually irresistible, ballet scores. Stronger contrasts were certainly in order in both collections, but one cannot always expect an orchestra to provide what a conductor does not convincingly demand.

At the beginning, after a national anthem that threatened to get away from Miller's control, the snazzy brilliance of Barber's wondrous overture never quite materialized, as notes were dropped and ensemble values proved loose.

What went wrong with Gershwin's Piano Concerto seemed to be a lack of leadership in two places: on the podium and at the keyboard. The reins went unheld, as both Miller and Feinberg seemed to wait for the other party to take them.

In any case, the performance went along--diffuse, to be sure, but on a familiar path--with most of its mechanical requirements met. Being a masterpiece, it is probably also indestructible. Of course, it needs better advocacy than this. If there was a hero in this performance, it was trumpeter Thomas Stevens, who played the second-movement solos imperturbably, and for his efforts received no acknowledgment at all from the conductor.

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