Serendipity, in the form of someone else's indisposition, often brings important career opportunities. What's crucial is to be prepared when those opportunities arise.
George Pehlivanian is ready, as he showed Wednesday night in deputizing for an ailing Carl St.Clair in leading the Pacific Symphony in a standard but exposing Beethoven/Schumann/Wagner program.
The 32-year-old European-based American conductor, who had much of his early training here in Southern California, displayed complete assurance, musical astuteness and a genuine flair for the dramatic in this debut appearance in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
His leadership of the "Egmont" Overture kept orchestra and style in strict bounds; his assumption of the collaborator-accompanist's role in the Piano Concerto by Schumann proved sensitive and solid, and his way with six orchestral excerpts from three of the four "Ring des Nibelungen" operas illuminated the music while brilliantly showing off the expanded--to 98 players--ensemble.
Now the occupant of podium posts in secondary European orchestras--in the Hague and Vienna--Pehlivanian clearly has come a musical distance since two earlier Southland engagements in 1990 and 1993. Experience seems to have mellowed his flamboyance while not dampening his enthusiasm.
Wagner was the challenge in this agenda, and the orchestra sounded prime, lush and controlled in the familiar but difficult bits from "Walkure," "Siegfried" and "Gotterdammerung." The conductor shared bows with the solo players and the entire ensemble, not just at the end, but during the suite--not a bad idea.
Before intermission, Andre-Michel Schub was the excellent soloist in the Schumann Concerto. If he didn't underline all the passion and poetry in the piece, he played it most handsomely and with a thrilling sense of continuity. He, too, insisted on sharing his bows.
* George Pehlivanian will repeat the "Ring" excerpts with the Pacific Symphony, Saturday 3:30 p.m., Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $22. (714) 740-7878.