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MUSIC REVIEW : A Surprise Debut With Philharmonic

August 04, 1994|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

His name is Jahja Ling. Remember it.

Actually, local concert-goers with a dauntless penchant for distant trivia may already know the name. Ling was one of the conducting students--they called them fellows --at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute back in 1982. As part of that worthy program, now a thing of the lamented past, he led his youthful colleagues in some Mahler and Brahms at Hollywood Bowl.

After further education at Yale and Juilliard, the maestro--an Indonesian of Chinese descent--moved to a secondary position under Christoph von Dohnanyi with the mighty Cleveland Orchestra. For the past six seasons he also has led the Florida Orchestra in Tampa.

No one expected to see him conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the first time at Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday. But our orchestra, which no longer deems an assistant- or associate-conductor a necessity, found itself in trouble.

Carlo Rizzi was supposed to make his podium debut on this occasion. According to the official explanation, however, he was "unable to appear for family reasons." Translation: Back in Italy, his wife was about to give birth; understandably, Rizzi didn't want to leave her side.

Ling, now 42, flew in to save the night, even though tight summer-scheduling allowed only one rehearsal. He saved the night calmly, and with honor.

He retained the first half of the program as set up for Rizzi, conducting Bizet's Petite Suite from "Jeux d'enfants" and accompanying Alexander Treger in Saint-Saens' Third Violin Concerto. After intermission, he took the liberty--a liberty both pardonable and gratifying--of substituting Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony (No. 2) for his "Winter Dreams" (No. 1).

It will take further exposure in extrovert repertory to ascertain whether Ling is a bona-fide personality conductor or just a tasteful stylist and a highly competent technician. With the somewhat limited, relatively unhackneyed challenges at hand, one had to be grateful for his obvious and considerable virtues.

Forgetting fuss and fanfare, he outlined Bizet's fragile caractere pieces with charm and elegance, even with subtle wit that somehow failed to evaporate in vast open spaces and the cool night air. In the Tchaikovsky symphony--possibly the composer's least gooey--Ling capitalized on expressive restraint, crisp articulation, dynamic variety and rhythmic propulsion. It was lovely.

In the potentially sugary Saint-Saens concerto, he provided a suitably radiant, properly pliant orchestral frame, breathing with the admirably long-winded soloist while avoiding any traps of sentimental excess. Treger, a Philharmonic concertmaster since 1985, made much of his moment in the moon, playing with extraordinary ease, elastic grace, purity of tone and security of intonation. This was the sort of performance that makes second-rate music sound first-rate.

The busy Philharmonic players, who always seem to perform best under difficult conditions, sounded as if they had been doing nothing for weeks but preparing for this particular concert. Ling was lucky to have them, and vice versa.

*

Incidental intelligence:

* Someone must have been been twiddling the knobs and shuffling the microphones, because the amplified sound was vastly improved on this occasion: better presence, heightened brilliance, more realistic balances.

* Those in the audience willing to pay 50 cents for a program magazine were informed via an insert slip that there would be a change in conductor and symphony. The management did not deem it worthwhile to impart this information to the others in attendance.

* The concert attracted a comparatively modest crowd officially tabulated at 7,092, and a comparatively modest number of aeronautical intrusions: three. But what happened to those vaunted warning beacons?

* George Cleve, music-director laureate of the San Jose Symphony, is scheduled to make his Philharmonic debut tonight in place of Rizzi. Andre Watts will play the Second Rachmaninoff Concerto as scheduled. The remainder of the program will be changed to include Mozart's "Zauberflote" overture and Brahms' Fourth Symphony.

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