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Back Home Again : After 29 years away, the Glendale Symphony returns to the community, taking up residence at the Alex Theatre.

October 21, 1994|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Libby Slate is a regular contributor to The Times

GLENDALE — The Glendale Symphony Orchestra's concert tomorrow night at the Alex Theatre marks not only the launching of its 71st season, but a homecoming as well: For the first time since 1965, when it took up residence at the Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the ensemble will be based in the community for which it is named.

"There was no venue here to hold the orchestra as it grew," says Noel R. Veden, president of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra Assn. of the nearly three-decades stay in Downtown Los Angeles. As the years passed, concert scheduling proved less than satisfactory at the Music Center.

"They were right to the walls with production. (Music Center Operating Co. booking manager) Gordon Jenkins just could never give us the dates we needed--we'd get Mother's Day, Super Bowl Sunday. We could never get Fridays or Saturdays," Veden says.

With the renovation of the Alex Theatre, talks began between Veden's predecessor and theater board members, which set the wheels in motion for a move.

First, however, the theater had to pass musical muster. Lalo Schifrin, the renowned composer who has been the orchestra's music director since 1989, brought a team of experts--an architect, the orchestra's two librarians and Carmine Marinelli, the pavilion's veteran master of properties--to judge the hall for its acoustics, stage space and other considerations.

The only change required was the addition of a new acoustic stage shell to eliminate the need for microphone amplification.

The ensemble's relocation was announced a year ago, two months before the theater reopened with a New Year's Eve concert featuring the orchestra and Robert Guillaume. The parting with the Music Center has been amicable--the traditional Christmas concert on Dec. 13 will still take place at the pavilion.

"When we told Gordon we wouldn't be coming back, he said, 'Good for you,' " Veden says.

The change of venue has brought about some other changes. The season has been reduced from six concerts to five for this trial run, and the orchestra itself has been scaled back from 96 players to 70, the maximum the Alex stage can accommodate. Veden says he is unaware of any complaints from the musicians who lost their jobs. The group is contracted from the local pool of busy and well-paid film and television studio musicians who enjoy an occasional opportunity to play live classical music.


Schifrin, 62, the Argentine-born composer of serious music and such popular works as the television series theme "Mission: Impossible," sees the resulting season as a "rejuvenation. This is almost like starting all over again--we're changing the programming to a classical-sized orchestra, with less woodwinds and strings and no percussion unless we call them in from the outside."

Saturday's concert, for instance, begins with the Ballet Suite from Stravinsky's "Pulcinella," which Schifrin calls "a joyous piece, very delicate, by a contemporary composer but paying tribute to the Baroque music of Italy."

Two symphony principals, flutist Sheridon Stokes and harpist Marcia Dickstein, will be featured next in Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major, and post-intermission, 12-year-old Jun Asai plays Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major.

"Instead of trying to open with big fireworks, mesmerize the audience and shake them up with a lot of pyrotechnics, this is going to be more seducing," Schifrin says of the program. "This is delicate, transparent. We hope we're going to be able to bring the most finesse, the brilliant but subtle nuances of dynamics. Now we won't be able to hide behind the cymbals and trombones. I think that will be very good for the orchestra, a good inspiration to do this music, which is refined."

Schifrin's penchant for innovative programming is evidenced in the Jan. 14 concert, featuring three piano works, by Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, played by Lincoln Mayorga, John Novacek and Mark Richman.

"I took this idea from the three tenors," he says of the concerts in Italy and Los Angeles for which he composed and contributed arrangements. "As an encore, there will be a Scott Joplin rag, an arrangement for six hands."

The March 4 program features Roberto Cani in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto as well as Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The April 22 season finale, "More . . . Jazz Meets the Symphony" is an encore of last year's well-received experiment in which the orchestra teamed up with noted jazz bassist Ray Brown, trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Grady Tate. This year, James Moody joins them on saxophone.

Schifrin is pleased with the Alex collaboration, but says the door remains open for a return to the Music Center if necessary.

The symphony will save $20,000 per concert in rental, parking and other fees despite a seating capacity of 1,450 compared to the pavilion's 3,200, Veden says. Nearly 1,000 subscriptions have been sold, compared to last year's tally of 1,100, accounting for about 66% of seats.

The increased revenue could allow them to present a Friday night series and more school concerts. Such figures, Veden says, "make it possible for us to dream bigger dreams."

Where and When

What: The Glendale Symphony Orchestra's 71st season inaugural concert.

Location: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Hours: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Price: $12 to $50.

Call: For tickets and information, (818) 500-8720. Some tickets will be available at the theater after 1 p.m. Saturday.

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