CLASSCOL

In Tokyo last Tuesday night, a crowd of nearly 3,000 clapped and cheered and went joyously mad after a concert by a visiting American orchestra. Another crowd of similar size had done the same on Monday, and on each of three days before that. No previous American conquest of Japan (of which there have been many) was more skilfully managed, or more joyously received. The conquerors this time were the 80 members of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, on its first-ever tour: two concerts over the New Year holiday in Osaka then five in Tokyo. The imponderables surrounding the event are many, but the over-all success of the venture renders them meaningless. It isn’t very often, for example, that a symphonic-sized orchestra would embark on an international concert tour less than a year after its founding. But the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra has led a backward life from the start, and it simply doesn’t matter. The Japan tour was booked, for example, before the roster of musicians had been filled in or even drawn up. So was the recording contract with Philips, which has already seen fruition in two compact discs that ended 1991 high on the charts (“Hollywood Dreams,” which was nearly everybody’s favorite crossover record last year, and “The Gershwins in Hollywood,” an even more substantial achievement). And so, of course, were the six weekends the orchestra played at the Bowl last summer, replacing the resident Los Angeles Philharmonic for the Friday/Saturday easy-listening series. There are some easy explanations, of course, as to why this orchestra had been so precipitously rushed into being. The birth pangs were lightened by the deal with Philips, which had lost its juicy Boston Pops Orchestra connection and needed a glamorous substitute. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, with its own plans that include a stint at the Salzburg Festival smack in the middle of next summer’s Bowl season, needed some reputable caretaker orchestra to hold down the home fort. Even against the wretched financial statistics in today’s orchestral world, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra made sense on paper long before the first downbeat. There’d be some justice, even so, in approaching the idea of this Japan tour as an act of precocity. This was, after all, an orchestra that had only been formed last February for the “Hollywood Dreams” recording session, whose members had come together again during the summer for the Bowl concerts, the Gershwin recording session and a Rodgers-Hammerstein session (out on discs come spring), and had then gone their separate ways again until this past December 27. On that day the orchestra reassembled on a Culver City sound stage, and ran two rehearsal sessions to prepare the 37 numbers that made up the Japan tour repertory. The Japan concerts — in Osaka’s Festival Hall and Tokyo’s Orchard Hall, both rather drab venues both visually and acoustically — also marked, mind you, the first times the orchestra had played in actual concert conditions, without microphones on a normal stage. The group sounded terrific through the Bowl’s microphones last summer, and it sounds even better on their first two state-of-the-art recordings. Playing a normal concert, however, presents a whole new set of conditions, the only proper lens for examining an orchestra’s true quality. Under that lens, the brand-new Hollywood Bowl Orchestra stands out as a genuine phenomenon. By the time of their seventh and last concert, these top Los Angeles freelance players had formed themselves into an orchestra with sheen and precision. The players seemed to recognize this no less than the audiences; along with the exhilaration of the players’ discoveries of Japan (with its shrines to ancient gods coexisting with its shrines to cut-rate electronic equipment) I’ve never picked up so much backstage conversation by orchestral players, genuinely proud at how good the whole group was sounding. Never mind that the programs for these concerts consisted mainly of showtunes from stage and screen, with some Tchaikovsky dances and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” added for ballast. The first concerts had their rough spots, but the orchestra I heard at the final Tokyo concerts was an ensemble I would trust with the challenging transparencies of a Mozart symphony. Credit where due, of course: in John Mauceri the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s sponsors have hit upon the perfect force to weld these players into the ensemble they became this past week. Mauceri is now 46. I remember the blond curls and the winning grin when he presided over the first (and best) restoration of Bernstein’s “Candide” at the Brooklyn Academy in 1973; they’re still in place. He has grown in eclectic mastery; the week before Tokyo he had conducted Wagner’s “Die Walkuere” at the Scottish National Opera of which he is artistic director. He talked, and was entitled so to speak, about an American repertory of film and stage music as an entity deserving attention by symphonic-sized orchestras. He proved his point with such items on the Japan programs as the exquisite “Walking the Dog” number from Gershwin’s film score to the Astaire-Rogers “Shall We Dance.” Mauceri’s task was made lighter by the orchestra itself. “I looked for freelance players from around Los Angeles who already knew each other, who could travel and work together as friends,” he told me. “Many of these people I’ve known from my days conducting Opera Pacific in Costa Mesa. I hold onto my memories of the night I conducted ‘La Boheme’ there, when at my last bow onstage the players in the pit threw flowers at me. How do you take an aggregation of freelance players, even the best ones, and make them into an orchestra so quickly? ”I think that what I work for,” said Mauceri, “is what you could call a collective agreement. I try to unlock in every player the thing that made that person a musician in the first place. And then it just snowballs; the players hear how well everybody is playing, and so they play even better.” Pride of performance: it’s a pretty good perk for a freelancer, along with such added rewards as the chance to explore sushi at the source. Even so, several Hollywood Bowl Orchestra members took a money loss in playing with the orchestra. Daily salaries ranged from $140 to $210, with an daily $90 per diem (not exactly lavish at current Tokyo prices). At home in a Hollywood studio, playing for a TV commercial, the money can be a lot better. ”Sure, it’s better,” said violinist Jay Rosen. “But I’ll tell you the real payoff on a gig like the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. It’s the chance to take time off from the music business, and to play some music for a change.” PAGE 1 PAGE 3