Artistic Oversight?--Was artistic quality overlooked as a criterion for the Monterey Symphony''s next conductor?
Thursday, June 3, 1999
All the evidence has been collected, the testimony taken. The public hearing is closed. The jurists--the members of the search commitee--will now evaluate the Monterey Symphony''s field of music director candidates. The committee members are musicians in the orchestra (Forrest Byram, Claudia Fountain, Mark Shannon and Teresa Orozco Petersen) and members of the board of directors (Chairman Walter J. McCarthy, Roberta Bialek, Sally Cantor, Mollie Hedges and Tom Ruth).
While the committee is bound by the terms of the process to deliver a unanimous recommendation, the final decision by the board of directors is not so constrained and could be split.
In general terms, the committee musicians speak for the orchestra while the others represent the board. Each has an agenda which inherently short-shrifts the artistic product--the principal interest of the audience. Since the musicians necessarily view the musical process from their parts outward, they begin with a distorted, often incomplete, impression of what the composer intends to convey to the audience. The board, whose primary bias favors fund-raising and socioeconomic influence, has been described by committee chairman Walter MacCarthy as "the politicians."
So who on the search committee speaks for the audience? The commiteee included neither experienced conductors nor critics, those best qualified to gauge overall artistic quality. The MS administration will direct your attention to a card tipped into each program booklet that asks concert-goers to measure the "repertoire choice," the "balance in the sound of the orchestra," the "evenness of the tempos," the "clarity of the beat," the "necessity of the gestures," and other patronizing nonsense. The only legitimate thing the audience member could hope to score was the orchestra''s response to the conductor. From the audience perspective, this was the closest thing to a consistent yardstick for evaluation, even though, of course, there are always obvious variables. For one thing, each piece on each program carries its own peculiarities, including its own degrees of difficulty. For another, not all musicians attended all of the scheduled rehearsals.
Assuming, however, that the musicians who made it to these finals were properly trained and apparently experienced, technical shortfalls would likely reveal themselves in the performances.
The committed candidate we further assume would do whatever it took to convince the orchestra to aim for its highest standards of execution and give him or her its best effort. Therefore, barring something completely unexpected, all the audience had to do was look for the few among the many who would transcend their technical achievements with a creative temperament or personal vision. Easy, right?
As it turned out, only four of the seven candidates proved to be viable. Dmitri Yablonsky''s lack of experience on the podium left him ultimately unable to rein in concertmaster William Barbini; as a result, the first violins did not know whose beat to follow. Max Bragado-Darman took himself out of the running by motoring metronomically through a Beethoven symphony and, worse, flattening out the work''s famous dynamic contrasts. Because Miguel Harth-Bedoya failed to demand that the violins play in correct rhythm and ensemble for more than half his program, it became clear that he was not a serious candidate. (He was reported to have said as much, and one board member confirmed that to me immediately after his appearances here.)
That leaves Kate Tamarkin, Bernard Rubenstein, Enrique Barrios and Darryl One. The last to appear, One, struggled but failed to win satisfactory orchestral response during the longest work of his program, Brahms'' Piano Concerto in D Minor. Rubenstein set the highest technical standards of the season by conducting local premieres of two challenging works, Rachmaninoff''s Symphonic Dances and Shostakovich''s Symphony 9. For all his success, however, he came up short in conveying personal expressive insight. Tamarkin made an indelible impression with her artistic ideas in Dvorak''s Symphony in G and Prokofiev''s Piano Concerto 3 which featured a fiery performance by the silver-prize winner of the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition. To put that in perspective, however, it must be noted that the orchestra knew both of these works, having played them before.
Enrique Barrios got a snapping good reading of an early Mozart symphony, led a gutsy Bruch violin concerto (while paying sensitive attention to his teenage soloist) and got a remarkable orchestral response in Bartok''s always-challenging Concerto for Orchestra. Barrios also went for the gusto, taking risks and flashing uncommon spirit.
Despite a search season that officially gave inadequate attention to artistic evaluation (and an inexcusable decision to spend the entire 1999-2000 season with a series of unknown guest conductors who have zero interest in this orchestra), Enrique Barrios is the best choice for the job of music director, with Kate Tamarkin a close second, followed by Bernard Rubenstein. (As you will see in the calendar, Barrios is set to conduct the orchestra this Sunday in Carmel Valley.)
Last Week''s Quiz: Who in 1934 composed the song cycle Songs of the lovesick muezzin, on poems of Iwaszkiewicza? Answer: Karol Szymanowski.
This Week''s Quiz: What prominent composer wrote a piano version of Bach''s violin Chaconne in D Minor for the left hand only?
Mozart Society Benefit Friday, 8pm. Works by Mozart (including Concerto in F, K413) and Chopin to be played by pianist Melinda Coffey, violinists Victor Critchlow, Lois Owsley, violist Vernon Brown, cellist Amy Anderson. Sunset Center, San Carlos Street and 9th Avenue, Carmel. $20. 625-3637.
The Magic Flute Friday/Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 3pm. Sherwood Dudley conducts UCSC Opera Theater in student/community production of Mozart opera, sung in English. Music Recital Hall, UC Santa Cruz. Reserved, $12/general; $9/seniors; $7.50/students. 459-2159.
Oriana Chorale Friday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 3pm. Lorena Tariba conducts music from Mozart''s Requiem, Haydn''s St John Missa, Rutter''s Requiem. Tenor Min Sheng Yang sings arias by de Curtis, Verdi, Puccini. Friday: Mission San Juan Bautista. Sunday: Sacred Heart Church, 5th Avenue and College St., Hollister. $15/adults; $5/teens, free/12-and-under. 637-5364.
Monterey Symphony Pops Sunday, 1pm. Enrique Barrios conducts outdoor "Dances Around the World" concert of Tchaikovsky, Copland, Bernstein, Brahms, others. Quail Meadows, San Carlos Road, Carmel Valley. Free (food concessions on site). Lawn and limited chair seating. 624-8511.
Avant Garden Party Sunday, 2pm. Annual New Music Works benefit featuring music by Phil Collins, Tim Bell, Ron Elfving, Gene Lewis, Richard Freeman-Toole with Andy Connell, Kenny Hill, Roberto Sierra, Antiquarian Funk, others. Topside Estates, 700 Spring St., Santa Cruz. $40, $25. 427-2225.