At intermission at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, the season’s final
concert by the Philharmonic Institute Orchestra, Philharmonic managing
director Ernest Fleischmann came on stage. He had never, he told 8,725
listeners, come before an audience to ask for help, but the Philharmonic
Institute was now in trouble. Unless $250,000 can be raised before October 31,
Fleischmann said, the entire Institute program — a training venture for young
orchestral musicians and conductors, now rounding off its tenth year, of which
each summer’s orchestra has been the most visible and audible product — could
not continue. Fleischmann couldn’t have picked a better occasion to plead the cause of the
Institute. This year’s orchestra has been a spectacular venture, performing
with remarkable skill both under its own conductors-in-training and also with
some of the guest conductors booked for the current Bowl season. Sunday’s
program had some of both: two of the summer’s conducting fellows, Susan
Davenny Wyner and Thomas Dausgaard, conducting music by Bernstein and
Stravinsky before intermission and the redoutable Simon Rattle leading the
Mahler Fourth Symphony to end it, with Rattle’s wife, soprano Elise Ross, a
slightly quavery but eloquent soloist in the last movement. There were rough moments, to be sure. Dausgaard’s reading of the complete
“Petrouchka” ballet score had its nervous moments, a tendency now and then
to over-emphasize small details at the expense of momentum. At least this was
a big, energetic conception whose rawness will mellow in time, and it at least
drew beautiful playing from the orchestra all the way. The Mahler was, in a word, stunning. Rattle, too, might be accused of an
excess of concern with details, and there were moments where Mahler’s own
suggestions of flexibility of tempo got exaggerated to the point of
wilfulness. But there were also stunning moments, exquisite playing from the
string section with tones throttled down to just this side of audibility (and
with horrendously accurate intrusions from aircraft at exactly the worst
moments), marvelous dabs of light from winds and brass. If Los Angeles can annually develop an orchestra of this quality, out of young
and untried talent, in the mere seven weeks of the Institute, then the
question of whether the Philharmonic Institute deserves all the help it can
get becomes self-answering.