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Glendale Opens Brave New Era, a Shaky 'Season to Celebrate' : Music review: Pacific Symphony's founding conductor resurfaces as the new maestro for an ambitious orchestra.

October 23, 1995|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

GLENDALE — The fancy brochure heralds "The Season to Celebrate." Wince.

*

The celebration, in this shaky instance, involves the 72nd year of concerts by the Glendale Symphony. The season, if one can call it that, comprises five programs amid the acoustic horrors and neo-Deco splendors of the Alex Theatre, plus a holiday show--they call it "A Christmas Glory"--at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The central celebrant is Keith Clark, Glendale's new maestro in residence. Southern California hadn't heard much from or about him in the six years since he was yanked--with more wisdom, perhaps, than kindness--from the helm of his Pacific Symphony.

The Glendale Symphony has endured a number of identity shifts over the decades. Most recently, it functioned essentially as a pops orchestra, specializing in hum-along hits, movie music and the slick schlock that passes as "light entertainment." Now, with the would-be flashy Clark in charge, the orchestra suddenly has become very serious and very ambitious.

The intentions, no doubt, are lofty. The results, as experienced at the inaugural concert on Saturday, are cause for alarm.

With a scrappy part-time band, overparted chorus and gaggle of bargain-basement soloists, Clark rushed in where many a great conductor would fear to tread. He scheduled Beethoven's mighty Fourth Piano Concerto as a prelude to the celestial pyrotechnics of the Ninth Symphony.

And that's not all, folks. In a willful flight of aesthetic and historic barbarism, the conductor interpolated Schoenberg's "Survivor From Warsaw" between the third and fourth movements of the Ninth, with nary a pause for the shifting of expressive gears. Structural logic and stylistic integrity, be damned.

Clark also lengthened the too lengthy evening with a rambling musico-socio-political sermon after intermission that lent new meaning to the concepts of self-serving hyperbole and dubious scholarship. All this and a pre-concert concert-lecture too.

Some, if not all, of the inherent indulgences might have been justified if the music-making had been brilliant. Perish the hope.

Clark beat time briskly, cued neatly, emoted fussily. It all looked quite picturesque. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to convey much to the hard-working, possibly under-rehearsed players. They buried their noses in the score and sawed away dutifully and monotonously all night long. Also coarsely. Also loudly.

Glendale, not incidentally, has a new concertmaster to complement the new conductor: none less than Sidney Weiss. (The roster in the sloppily edited program magazine listed him as just plain Sid.) Carlo Maria Giulini's favored first-violinist in Chicago and Los Angeles is a splendid musician. Too bad he isn't a miracle worker.

In the piano concerto, not heard hereabouts since Yefim Bronfman's poignant performance at the Music Center two weeks ago, the orchestra sounded strident and imprecise. Jerome Rose, the soloist on an ill-tuned Steinway, sounded brittle and imprecise. The boss on the podium aimed for intimacy but achieved pendantry.

The first three movements of the Ninth unwound like perfunctory clockwork, Clark's self-conscious commands notwithstanding. Then came the jolting, anticlimactic Anschluss of the six-minute Schoenberg cantata, written 123 years after the Beethoven symphony. A. Paul Bergen served as suitably anguished, unsuitably over-amplified narrator for the intrusion of atonal expressionism. Then, at last, it was time for the merciful if not-so-grand finale.

The oddly matched vocal quartet combined the piercing soprano of Rebecca Copley, the reliable mezzo-soprano of Claudine Carlson, the woolly basso of Edward Russell and the stodgy tenor of Timothy Mussard (who recently attracted Music Center attention as an ersatz -Domingo in "Stiffelio"). The Angeles Chorale, trained by John Alexander, did its difficult thing meekly.

Never has the "Ode to Joy" seemed so joyless.

A battery of stage microphones and an obtrusive cameraman recorded the shaky proceedings, every pretentious quiver and every prosaic quaver. Posterity no doubt will be grateful.

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