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'Planets' aligned for conductor

Giancarlo Guerrero makes a hasty debut at Hollywood Bowl.

September 09, 2004|Daniel Cariaga | Special to The Times

On five days' notice, Giancarlo Guerrero led the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night, substituting for the originally scheduled Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who canceled Friday for "personal reasons."

This was a successful debut by the native Nicaraguan, who was raised in Costa Rica and is now music director of the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony. He appears to be a personable conductor, cool and efficient and comfortable on the podium, and his manner communicates his wishes clearly. In a two-work program consisting of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and Gustav Holst's "The Planets" -- the originally scheduled local premiere of Colin Matthews' "Pluto" was not played -- Guerrero showed himself a commanding, decisive leader.

The Philharmonic's members, always a game group with a new conductor, responded with playing that was attentive but variable, regularly exciting but often unpolished. Clearly, rehearsal had been limited.

Guerrero obviously relishes contrasts, and he brought to the fore the great distance between very soft and very loud in Holst's popular astrological suite. The louds could become overbearing, as in "Mars," "Jupiter" and "Saturn," yet the quiet playing produced an admirable foil to the blasting. "The Planets" is not a subtle piece of music, but it is always hard to resist.

In the final movement, "Neptune," the women of the Chapman University Choir, trained by William Hall, contributed handsomely. From the orchestra, all the woodwind soloists, throughout the piece, did likewise, as did concertmaster Martin Chalifour.

Veteran violinist Cho-Liang Lin was the soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, playing neatly but without much flair. He seemed ill at ease in the first movement, which lacked its usual panache, but relaxed into the Canzonetta and Finale. Guerrero and the orchestra provided full-bodied, gutsy accompaniment.

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