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Faithful to the maestro's direction

A new, privately funded Italian orchestra that carries on the legacy of the great conductor Arturo Toscanini launches its first U.S. tour after earning raves at home.

January 14, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

FOR generations of Americans, Arturo Toscanini was the greatest conductor of their time, perhaps of all time. He set new performance standards and enforced a style of following a score as literally and faithfully as possible, an approach that still draws adherents. Though his star has dimmed since his death in 1957, the Italian conductor still ranks among the top in the field.

Dedicated to his ideals and repertory, the new Rome-based Symphonica Toscanini, composed of young, mostly Italian musicians and led for life by New York Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel, is making its first U.S. tour this month.

On Tuesday, the orchestra will give a joint concert with the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the 50th anniversary to the day of Toscanini's death. As part of the tour, the orchestra will stop in Costa Mesa on Jan. 25 and 26 for different programs sponsored by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

The orchestra has gotten great press in its home country. "Too perfect to be real," wrote La Provincia di Como. "Everything is appealingly beautiful, fresh and endowed with superior texture."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 16, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Toscanini: An article in Sunday Calendar about conductor Arturo Toscanini said that he went from cellist to conductor during a production of "Aida" in Buenos Aires. The city was Rio de Janeiro.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 18, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Toscanini: A photograph of conductor Arturo Toscanini that appeared with a Sunday Calendar article about the Symphonica Toscanini was reversed, making it appear that the conductor was left-handed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 21, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Toscanini image: A photograph of conductor Arturo Toscanini that appeared with an article last Sunday about the Symphonica Toscanini was reversed, making it appear that the conductor was left-handed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 21, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Toscanini: A picture that accompanied a Jan. 14 Calendar article about Symphonica Toscanini was reversed, making it appear that conductor Arturo Toscanini was left-handed. In addition, the article said he went from cellist to conductor in a production of "Aida" in Buenos Aires. It was in Rio de Janeiro.

"One is struck by their sense of belonging," wrote Il Giornale, "by their discipline and generosity in giving the best of themselves."

"Maestro Maazel said each one of them could be a soloist," said Pia Elda Locatelli, president of the orchestra's sponsoring organization, the Symphonica Toscanini Foundation based in Parma, the conductor's birthplace.

"But don't call them a youth orchestra," she cautioned. "They are young, but they are all professionals. Most of them are between 20 and 30."

The group is unique in Italy because it's privately funded rather than underwritten by the state. That's what interested Locatelli, a member of the European Parliament and part of its commission on the rights of women and equal opportunities.

"From the very beginning, I supported it because this private enterprise dimension fascinated me," said Locatelli, speaking from Bergamo, Italy. "I used to be an entrepreneur before becoming a member of the European parliament. I found it fascinating that this would be a private artistic enterprise. But I couldn't understand how they were really going to launch this challenge."

Neither could Maria Chiara Raggi, the orchestra's principal harpist.

"Suddenly from Italy arrived a phone call asking me to play in this new Italian orchestra," Raggi said from her home in Munich, where she's lived for 12 years, playing in the Bavarian State Orchestra. "I was very surprised. I thought, finally Italy is able to create something new. It's not always La Scala, Santa Cecilia. In Italy, there are wonderful orchestras. But I was very surprised. Suddenly it was creating a new one."

But she didn't expect much to happen.

"At the beginning, I thought it would be one concert and it would fold. Suddenly I was really surprised, wow, this is something else. There is financial backing, and there is a structure, and there is not just idealism and 'we would like to do this and this.' No, they did it. That was very big surprise."

But the orchestra had a base. It grew out of the former Arturo Toscanini Orchestra, founded in 1975 and conducted by Lorin Maazel since 2004. Last May, the musicians voted to rename it the Symphonica Toscanini and Maazel became its permanent head.

The budget for the year is now about $10 million, a combination of earned income and individual and corporate sponsors (Italian defense group Finmeccanica is underwriting the current tour). The plan is to give 60 concerts this year. In addition to performances in 12 U.S. cities, the orchestra will play in Japan, Israel, Europe and Morocco.

"Funding is very secure at this time," Maazel wrote The Times in an e-mail from Rome, where he was rehearsing the orchestra for the tour. "Our goal is to strive for a level of performance excellence that would justify the inclusion of the awesome Maestro's name. Dedication to excellence, willingness to work the extra hour (or day/s) to achieve our goal, total emotional commitment to the task at hand, these attributes characterize the orchestra's approach. I attempt to second their efforts and add what I can to their contribution."

Another distinguishing aspect of the group is that unlike other Italian and European orchestras, whose members remain secure essentially for life, Symphonica Toscanini draws on a roster of 200 freelance musicians, which keeps them on their toes and dedicated to the job.

"Each musician enjoys a solo contract so that we are not bound by work regulations laid down by others," Maazel wrote. "Like all free-standing professionals, we rehearse as long as is necessary (or as little!)."

The musicians say they like the arrangement.

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