Flatt Line Readings
Guest conductor's shortfalls sink Monterey Symphony performance.
Thursday, March 1, 2001
The most consistently weak playing came from the violins, conspicuously the first violins, whose leader, William Barbini, continually rushed the beat and rarely looked at the baton. Those conductors who have leashed Barbini have found a more-than-competent orchestral soloist. But those who couldn''t, have found him to be one of the ensemble''s biggest liabilities, and the first violin section, in turn, the rogue of the orchestra.
Thanks to the combination of inexperience on the podium and slovenly playing, Michael Torke''s Bright Blue Music was fuzzy and murky. When the post-minimalist piece is played properly-with clean, crisp articulation-its busy texture is as bracing and fresh as a stiff ocean breeze.
Then came the two oboe concertos, one each by Handel and Bach. Notwithstanding the finely burnished tone of venerable soloist Allan Vogel, Flatt aroused not a shred of energy from the reduced string orchestra. Movements that wanted to frisk and dance droned instead, and dynamics could have been named for the man himself. Even worse, Barbini''s violins exhibited no consensus of rhythm or ensemble, proving, above all else, that they don''t practice what they preach (a point apparently lost on those many of them who also teach the instrument.)
Alas, Flatt''s own deficiencies would become more obvious. If he had any vision for Dvorak''s Symphony in D Minor, it never crossed the footlights. Like most great works of music, the piece needs an interpretive point of view no less than a Shakespearean speech lives or dies in its delivery by an actor.
An orchestra can play what the composer wrote. But the conductor is responsible for making clear what the composer meant. In this reading, Flatt followed while the orchestra led. (Lo and behold, the musicians-principally the winds-finally asserted themselves and pulled out something resembling a performance.)
Of greater concern, however, remains Flatt''s failure to perform a conductor''s job. These included the failure to phrase and drive a symphonic line, scale dynamics for the intended impact, and hush secondary lines and sonorities in order to spotlight the crucial melodic phrases and rhythmic syncopations.
In his program note, board president Walter McCarthy wrote of Flatt, "We are very proud of him."
Does that sentiment make it reasonable or fair to ask the subscribers of the Monterey Symphony to pay-with its money and its time-for his education?
Because of the entertainment editor''s throbbing eye and the art director''s quivering mouse, classical music writer Scott MacClelland''s prose last week was made to appear sloppy and short-witted. A sentence he wrote should have stated: "While the piece will never be hailed at the level of the composer''s famous E Minor concerto, it certainly holds up well among its second-rank peer group." Sorry, everybody.