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Cues for World-Class Greatness : Maestra Diana Halprin Plans to Call On Her Experience to Take O.C. Chamber Orchestra to Higher Level


The Orange County Chamber Orchestra's first concert under its new conductor takes place Sunday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, and there are bound to be burning questions on everybody's mind.

Will there be changes in programming philosophy? New artistic goals? Ruffled feathers to be smoothed with the transfer of power? And, as a woman on the podium, will Diana Halprin face any special problems?

Apparently, she will.

"At the very superficial level, it's what the devil do you wear and why do I have to spend so much time worrying about it?" she said during an interview this week. "I love beautiful clothes, but you have no idea how many times I've heard the question--what am I going to wear. That is the burning question on everybody's mind.

"I feel like coming out with a big Macy's shopping bag."

In lieu of that, and in addition to her baton, former concertmaster Halprin will come out with her violin for at least a portion of the program: She'll be serving as soloist in Beethoven's Violin Concerto with new concertmaster Joseph Goodman conducting (Goodman will continue as orchestra manager. Micah Levy, the orchestra's founding music director who left the post to pursue doctoral studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, will stay on as principal guest conductor). Halprin will lead the orchestra in a Concertino No. 6 in E-flat Major ascribed to Baroque composer Carlo Ricciotti (1681-1758), and Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor.

So, the answer to the big question?

"Black, long, simple, a little bit of lace, and comfortable," the maestra said of her planned attire. "And black shoes--flat, so I can be grounded during the monumental works of Mozart and Beethoven."

Now about those other questions. . . .

Re programming philosophy: "There won't be clever (program) titles. . . . We have many sophisticated people in our audience, others are tiptoeing in the classical world. I want to address a range of people."

Re ruffled feathers: "I'm having an absolutely benevolently wonderful reaction from all the musicians. I don't feel that I'm not a peer . . . I feel very much a peer."

Her artistic goals for the orchestra are lofty, to be sure.

"I've been playing violin since the age of 3," she noted. "I've traveled a great deal, I've played with Karajan, Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf, Zubin Mehta, and I believe I have a vision. I've had an intimate mental image, let me say, of greatness--the honor and joy of experiencing firsthand what great musicianship is like.

"My aim and my comfort zone is to be as close to greatness as possible. World-class greatness, that's my goal. . . . That is where I want to take this orchestra. An organization is bigger than any one person, it has its own pulse, but I can offer the summation of my experience, which is considerable."


It includes violin studies with Ivan Galamian from ages 5 to 18 at the Curtis Institute of Music and Juilliard School of Music; at age 7, she was the youngest soloist to have performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She studied conducting with Leon Barzin from 1970 to 1973 and conducted the New York Kammermusiker from 1968 to 1974 and the Columbia Chamber Orchestra from 1972 to 1975.

"Barzin taught many great conductors, many of whom came to him on the q.t.," Halprin said. "He never took money for lessons--you couldn't buy him, he never needed money.

"Stick technique was the most valuable thing. Barzin made a study of Toscanini; he codified what Toscanini did. Toscanini was a great conductor whose stick technique sometimes failed him. A lot of the times it failed him, he would blow up at the orchestra. At least that's what Barzin said. . . .

"A lot of conductors, to give a cue on their right, will turn their backsides to the left. Barzin made sure our toes were always pointing forward. Everything had to come out of the stick. We practiced with the left hand in the pocket. You have to play the music with the baton, and every 16th note has to be there in a very clear way."

Does Halprin really believe that "world-class greatness" is possible here?

"We have a very small budget," she answered, "we need help, but we have the pool of musicians. We have a vision, we have a change and we have a joy. I think that this is possible.

"We have musicians playing with us who play with us because of what this orchestra can be. A lot of musicians here work in the film business, but that doesn't necessarily sustain the soul. When you offer to sustain the spirit, you can attract a lot."

* The Orange County Chamber Orchestra plays works by Carlo Ricciotti, Mozart and Beethoven on Sunday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. 2:30 p.m. $14 to $29. (714) 854-4646.

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