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Philippe Entremont Is Playing His Numbers Right

January 25, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Self-conducted performances of Beethoven's Triple Concerto are uncommon at best. It's rarer still that a visiting orchestra should offer a work that requires not one traveling soloist, not two, but . . .

"Two and a half, as I say," said Philippe Entremont, who leads the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra and serves as piano soloist, tonight in Costa Mesa in an Orange County Philharmonic Society-sponsored concert. Violinist Cho-Liang Lin and cellist Carter Brey account for the whole numbers in his equation.

As for leading the middle-period Beethoven work from the keyboard, Entremont said, "I have never done it another way. This is like a chamber-music work, not an overblown piece at all, and we do it like we're doing chamber music."

The Dresden Philharmonic was founded in 1870. In its early years, Brahms and Tchaikovsky conducted their own music with the orchestra; Entremont has also scheduled works by those composers, the "Academic Festival" Overture and "Little Russian" Symphony, respectively.

"Sometimes I am a little worried by tradition," Entremont, 60, admitted, "but you must not be too affected by it. Most of the time, composers are not great conductors."

Born and raised in France, Entremont is lifetime music director of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, and last year he assumed the post of principal conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. He outlined his status with the Dresden orchestra, now on its first U.S. tour: "The best position you can dream of--I am guest."

With his extensive background in French music (among a plethora of distinctions, he is former president of the Ravel Academy in St. Jean-de-Luz), Entremont admits it's a switch conducting "middle-European" ensembles.

"I still play French music as much as I can," he said. "But I am not going to Vienna and say we don't do Schubert and Mozart. I am not stupid. I would last two weeks!"

Entremont's birthplace is Rheims, the center of the Champagne region. Though he grew up in Paris and has visited Rheims just once in the past 40 years, he retains a sparkling enthusiasm: "You can have Rheims in your own home," he pointed out.

There is, however, much that he feels seriously about. "Your country has to realize that if nothing is done about the arts, there will be a slow process of disintegration," he warned. "You cannot count on the private sector anymore."

Entremont knows of what he speaks. In addition to leading the Vienna Chamber Ensemble since 1976, he spent nearly a decade at the helm of American orchestras, first the New Orleans Philharmonic, later the Denver Symphony. The Denver group dissolved amid money troubles shortly after Entremont resigned in 1989.

"We are not richer in Europe, but we care. Everything is subsidized, so it is inconceivable in Europe for an orchestra to go under. (In the United States) even well-known orchestras are on the edge of the razor all of the time. The number of American musicians looking for jobs outside of America is terrible."

*

Entremont has earned five Grand Prix du Disque awards, most notably for his recordings of the complete piano music of Ravel, and for piano concertos of Ravel and Bartok.

Surprisingly, he downplayed those accomplishments.

"I am highly suspicious of the way these decisions are made," he said. "Everything is arranged in advance--come on, let's be candid. The recording companies, I think, have a lot to say in that. Just like the Grammy."

"The same with books, the Prix Goncourt in France. . . . I am not impressed with these kinds of awards."

Then such decisions are often political, as in the case of, say, dog shows?

"No, no, no--you see the dog, eh?"

Entremont feels very differently about being named a Knight of the Legion d'Honneur, and about the First Class Cross of Honor for the Arts and Sciences recently bestowed on him by the Austrian government.

"That's OK," he said. "That one I think I deserve richly. I have done enough for Austria. They give you that if you have been long enough surviving Vienna, and I am on my 18th year with the orchestra."

* Philippe Entremont leads the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra in works by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky tonight at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Entremont will also be piano soloist, along with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and cellist Carter Brey, in Beethoven's "Triple Concerto" in C, Opus 56. Presented by the Orange County Philharmonic Society. $15-$45. (714) 740-2000.

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