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Vienna Symphony Carves an Orchestral Niche : Music: Although not as famous as the Philharmonic, the organization has built a reputation for performing exclusively concert programs.

November 12, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's as if Avis claimed Hertz didn't exist.

Promotional materials stating that "the Vienna Symphony is the city's only full-time orchestra" were recently sent out by both the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and the Orange County Philharmonic Society. But there is, indeed, another full-time orchestra in Vienna. In fact, the Vienna Philharmonic is the far more celebrated of the two.

"Not only these days, (but for) more than 100 years," agreed Vienna Symphony music director Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, who leads that orchestra in concerts tonight in Cerritos and Monday in Costa Mesa. (The tour began Oct. 28 in Massachusetts, included Carnegie Hall on Halloween, and ends Tuesday in Santa Barbara.)

Perhaps the presenters, who probably based their news releases on information provided by Columbia Artists Management Inc., meant that it's the city's only orchestra exclusively playing orchestral music.

"(The Vienna Philharmonic) is a great orchestra, but they play every day in the opera," explained Fruhbeck, reached by phone earlier this week in Miami, where the Vienna Symphony had performed with Van Cliburn as soloist. "They play eight or 10 (orchestral) programs; we play 80 or 90 or 100. We are the concert orchestra of Vienna; 80% of the concert programs are the Vienna Symphony."

The program in Cerritos includes the Passacaglia from Hans Erich Apostel's unfinished Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 50; the Adagio from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10, and Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at the Exhibition" (in the familiar orchestration by Ravel).

On the agenda at the Orange County Performing Arts Center are Anton Webern's Passacaglia, Op. 1, Richard Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 2 with principal hornist Hector McDonald as soloist, and Brahms' Symphony No. 4.

On paper it appears that Fruhbeck is opening the concerts with a pair of passacaglias, but that's not the whole story.

"Actually, there are three passacaglias, the last movement of the Brahms Fourth (Symphony) the greatest of the three," he said.

The Apostel Passacaglia is only four minutes long, he said, "but a very concise expression of a very dark piece, almost amounting to funeral music. And there is not a doubt that the Webern is a masterpiece. But even between great music there are certain degrees. The form, the inspiration, the strict Classical--even Baroque--handling by Brahms, is such greatness. You'd have to go to Bach to find something like that."

Fruhbeck, 61, was born in Spain to German parents. He served as conductor of the Bilbao Orchestra and the Madrid National Orchestra earlier in his career, but the name Fruhbeck apparently wouldn't do for his highly nationalistic audiences.

"When I did my first concerts with the national orchestra," he recalled, "my boss, the general director from the ministry, said to me: 'I cannot explain to everybody you are Spanish with this name. You need to come up with something that everybody can identify.' "

*

Fruhbeck was born in Burgos; he came up with de Burgos and remained music director for 18 years. He continues to make his home in Madrid but no longer directs a Spanish orchestra.

Instead, Fruhbeck, now in his fourth season with the Vienna Symphony, is general music director of the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, principal guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, and regular guest conductor with Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.

When asked to compare Vienna's two principal orchestras, Fruhbeck exhibited none of the competitiveness one might associate with those car rental companies, Avis and Hertz.

"The Vienna Philharmonic has a very personal sound . . . a sound they can be proud of, and rightly so. Our sound is also in that category," he said.

"I have tried to keep the Viennese sound of the strings--but also the Viennese oboe and Viennese horns! The Viennese string sound is very dolce (sweet), a singing sound, with a lot of charm. But how can you portray a sound (in words)?"

Fruhbeck spends more time in Berlin than in Vienna--four months each year with the Deutsche Oper--which may explain why the one aspect of his musical life he could live without has to do with opera.

"It's very difficult (to do away with), but I would try to minimize administrative work in the opera," Fruhbeck said. "You go in at 9 a.m. in the morning and you never know when you go out. The worst is that you may go out without conducting any music. But it has to be done. It's tragic. Well, almost tragic."

* Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos leads the Vienna Symphony in works by Apostel, Mahler and Mussorgsky tonight at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. 8 p.m. $25-$46. (800) 300-4345 or (310) 916-8500.

The orchestra plays music by Webern, Richard Strauss and Brahms on Monday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. $17-$45. Sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society. (714) 553-2422.

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